HC Deb 06 December 1960 vol 631 cc1050-1
24. Mr. Fletcher

asked the Secretary to the Treasury whether Her Majesty's Government will make a grant to the trustees of the British Museum to enable them to contribute £25,000 to the Board of Trustees of the Palestine Museum, Jerusalem, in connection with the acquisition and preservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, subject to certain of the scrolls being loaned to the British Museum for exhibition to the British public.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Sir E. Boyle)

No, Sir. It would not be appropriate for such a contribution to be borne on the Vote of the British Museum. If it were decided that Her Majesty's Government should participate in an arrangement to enable the Palestine Archaeological Museum to acquire Scrolls, on condition that certain of them would be loaned to the British Museum, payment would be made through the British Academy. As my right hon. and learned Friend's predecessor said on 26th July, the attitude of Her Majesty's Government in this matter will depend upon the willingness of other countries concerned to co-operate financially and otherwise.

Mr. Fletcher

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, apart from their intrinsic value, these Scrolls are of the greatest importance to Western countries? Is it not highly desirable that Her Majesty's Government should be associated with the task of assisting the Jordanian Government to acquire any which can be acquired so that they can be examined and dealt with by international scholars of repute? In view of the urgency of the matter, will he consider Her Majesty's Government making an unconditional offer?

Sir E. Boyle

I do not think that I can go beyond the Answer which the former Chancellor gave at the end of July. The point is that we are prepared to make a special grant from the British Academy provided certain other countries, Sweden, France and the United States, come in with us and the Jordanian authorities agree to grant reasonable facilities for the periodical loan of these Scrolls to the participating countries. I think that a reasonable approach. I agree with the hon. Member that there is great public interest in this subject.