HC Deb 09 May 1950 vol 475 cc203-4
74. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury how many documents in the British Museum are reserved from public use.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Douglas Jay)

Out of a collection of nearly 70,000 manuscripts, 14 volumes and odd leaves from 11 other volumes are reserved, in the sense that some restriction is placed by the Trustees on their use by students. In addition, there are about 40 cases in which they must reserve a manuscript for a period in order to comply with a condition subject to which the manuscript was given and accepted. These figures do not include certain manuscripts which the Trustees have been advised by a Government Department to reserve for a period on grounds of public interest. The numbers of such manuscripts, and of other articles reserved from public use, are not readily available.

Mr. Wyatt

May I ask the hon. Gentleman to answer the next Question rather more loudly, so that the answer can be heard. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the British Museum are breaking the law in withholding any document from public use?

Mr. Speaker

The Question was not whether they were breaking the law, but only how many documents were reserved.

Mr. Wyatt

Will the hon. Gentleman say what is the underlying principle of the British Museum in selecting documents and reserving them from public use, thereby breaking the law in doing so?

Mr. Jay

I have explained both those points recently in a Debate on the Adjournment.

Mr. Marlowe

The hon. Gentleman referred to some documents being reserved, on advice from the Government, in the public interest. Can he explain on what grounds this form of censorship takes place?

Mr. Jay

One obvious ground would be security.

75. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury why Ashley MS. 1755, letters by Simian Solomon, Ashley MS. 5081, letters from A. C. Swinburne to C. A. Howell, Ashley MS. 5256, a poem by A. C. Swinburne, Ashley MSS. 5271, 5751, A4395, A4406, and B4436b, verses, A4464b, letter from A. C. Swinburne to T. Watts-Dunton, are now reserved from public use although they were freely available for inspection from the time of their purchase before the war until 1948.

Mr. Jay

There has been no change in the rules applying to these volumes. Their contents are such that they are made available only to students who satisfy the authorities of the Museum that they wish to consult them for a serious purpose.

Mr. Wyatt

Will my hon. Friend explain why in that case Dr. Randolph Hughes, who was a senior lecturer in French literature at London University for 14 years, was consistently refused permission to see these documents over a period of one year?

Mr. Jay

Individual applications of this kind are within the discretion of the Trustees of the British Museum.