HC Deb 06 November 1958 vol 594 cc1098-9
37. Mr. K. Robinson

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make the necessary financial provision to enable the British Museum Reading Room to remain open until 10 p.m. on week days.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. J. E. S. Simon)

No, Sir.

Mr. Robinson

What is the point of building the greatest storehouse of knowledge in the word and then denying access to it by almost everyone who is in normal full-time employment? Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the equivalent library in Moscow is open until midnight every night of the week, and that this suggestion would cost some £30,000 a year? Cannot we do better than that?

Mr. Simon

No. It would cost, I am advised, about £50,000 a year and would need 69 extra staff. The trustees would like to keep the Library open until 10 o'clock every evening, but it is not by any means very high on their list of priorities. There are other things they need to do more at the moment.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

Would the Financial Secretary consider this again? Is not the British Museum one of the greatest libraries in the world and of great prestige value to this nation? Is not it highly desirable that foreign students as well as our own should be able to study there in the evenings?

Mr. Simon

Of course, it is perfectly true that this is one of the greatest libraries in the world. On the other hand, there are many competing claims on the trustees, and they cannot place this one highest on the list of things they want to do at the moment.

Mr. Ede

Does the Minister's answer to that supplementary question mean that the trustees can hope that some of their applications to him will be granted?

Mr. Simon

The right hon. Gentleman is a trustee. I do not think that he should necessarily make that inference, but if he has anything specifically in mind perhaps he will communicate with me.

Mr. Robinson

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.