HC Deb 14 June 1972 vol 838 cc1667-90

10.30 a.m.

Resolved, That if proceedings on the British Library Bill [Lords] are not completed at this day's sitting, the Committee do meet on Wednesday next at half-past Ten o'clock.—[Mr. van Straubenzee.]

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. William van Straubenzee)

I beg to move, That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the British Library Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time. It is a pleasure for me to commend this Bill to the Committee. In recent months a number of us on both sides of the Committee have been engaged to- gether in legislation which is perhaps marginally more controversial that this Bill.

Therefore, it is pleasant to be handling a Bill of this nature. I shall deal with it reasonably shortly, but obviously the Committee will expect me to say something about its general background and its main provisions. If any major point is raised, I shall attempt to deal with it at the end.

The Bill's purpose is to give effect to the proposals announced by the Government in the White Paper published in January last year for the creation of the British Library. Members of the Committee will doubtless recall its main features. They are, subject to the approval of the House, to create the British Library as the apex of this country's library system by bringing together into a single organisation the four existing institutions pre-eminent in their respective fields—the British Museum Library, which includes the National Reference Library of Science and Invention, the National Central Library, the National Lending Library for Science and Technology, and the British National Bibliography—and to carry out a massive programme of new building which is urgent and inescapable if the new institution is to be fittingly housed.

Some people feel that there have been unjustifiable delays in meeting the accommodation needs of the British Museum Library departments, but I hope that the Organising Committee, and this Committee, will look forward rather than back. The proposals in the White Paper accord with the main recommendations of the Committee under the distinguished chairmanship of Dr. Dainton, as he then was, and they were widely welcomed in the world of libraries.

The Committee may like to have a brief account of the progress of the Organising Committee for the new library. Its principal tasks so far have been two, and they are closely related. The first is that of establishing the lines on which the principal functions of the new library—reference, lending and bibliographic services—and the staffs needed to run them can be most effectively organised for the future within a new unitary institution, from the standpoint of internal management and with full attention to the needs of the library's users.

The second task has been to provide the architects for the new buildings, particularly those which it is planned to erect in Bloomsbury, close by the British Museum, with advice on the library's requirements for accommodation of all kinds, and especially on the way in which the provision in the new buildings can take into account desirable changes in the way in which services and staff are organised.

I am glad to be able to report to the Committee that excellent progress has been made with what we would all understand are difficult but important tasks and the work is well up to schedule. I understand the first stage of new buildings in Bloomsbury is intended for completion by 1979, so that the present National Reference Library of Science and Invention can be operational in new accommodation by that year. So far as the library's lending services at Boston Spa are concerned, construction has already begun of the new buildings which are needed to enable the facilities of the National Central Library to be transferred there, and this transfer is planned for the summer of 1973.

Bearing in mind the wide objectives with which I had started, I hope it will commend itself to the Committee that the Bill should be drawn so that the objectives of the library are described in wide-ranging terms. I hope it will be acceptable that the composition of the British Library Board, which has a very important role to play, can readily be varied if circumstances show the need for this, and that it should be given wide powers to conduct its operations as it thinks wisest. I emphasise that we are looking well into the future. The field of libraries is a rapidly expanding and changing one and our task is to provide legislation capable of responding to rapid change and development.

That is by way of background to the Bill. I shall now take the Committee briefly through the Bill.

Clause 1 aims to bring out the comprehensive coverage of the materials which the library will need to have to do its job. The Committee must not overlook the fact that library materials are now appearing in new forms, and that future ingenuity may well add to the list. That is why the Clause is drawn as it is.

Clause 1(3)(b) will be of interest to public and other libraries, though it will be for the board to decide in what directions the powers set out in it will be used. The Clause is indicative of the need for co-operation between the British Library and other libraries in meeting total requirements efficiently and economically.

As the White Paper indicates, the National Libraries of Scotland and of Wales and other important libraries will remain independent of the British Library, though undoubtedly there will be areas for fruitful co-operation between them.

It may be convenient if I link the board's powers of lending in Clause 1(4) and the powers in paragraphs 11(1) and 11(3) of the Schedule. They are related to matters incidental to the board's role and to the acquisition and disposal of the property of the board. The board will need a substantial degree of independence in these matters. The needs of students and other users of the library must be borne in mind when items from the collections are lent and there must be restrictions on disposal of property vested in the board which are subject to trusts or conditions. I should like to think that the combined effect of the powers I have mentioned create balance, and that the balance in the drafting is just about right.

It may shorten discussion later if at this point I make reference to the absence of any reference in the Bill to the institutions other than the British Museum Library which are being incorporated in the new institution. The reason is that the trustees of both the National Central Library and the Council for the British National Bibliography already have powers which they can use to wind up their affairs and to transfer their assets to the British Library. No legislation is required, therefore, and the necessary winding-up arrangements are already in hand. For the same reason, there is no need for the Bill specifically to mention the incorporation of the National Lending Library at Boston Spa, which is directly administered by my Department.

Clause 2 deals with the very important matter of the composition of the British Library Board and with the provision of advisory councils for it or its Departments. The White Paper envisaged a board of up to 12 persons, including the chairman. The Committee will see that the Bill provides for a maximum of 14 and a minimum of nine. That was decided as a result of consultations with the Organising Committee. I hope that it will be acceptable that there is a degree of flexibility in the total number and that Clause 2(l)(a) gives additional flexibility as between the full-time and the part-time membership, bearing in mind that we are trying to look well ahead in the Bill.

There are limits to what we can do by way of looking into the future, but there seems to me to be likely to be two main phases in the responsibility of the board. For the first 10 or so years of its life, I see it as being heavily preoccupied with its major programme of new building, with the problems associated with a scatter of accommodation, with developing an integrated operational organisation and with establishing close links with other elements in the country's library system, and, I hope, internationally also.

There may, however, be a change at the time when the board, not only has been able to get the library well-established, but is also in a position to match its integrated operations with integrated accommodation in its two centres in London and Yorkshire. I should like to think that the 1972 legislation—if the House agrees to it—will be flexible enough to be responsive to the need for change in the structure of the board should that be necessary to reflect its changed role.

The Committee will realise that the intention is to create a management board, not a trustee structure. It might like to know, since it has been the subject of comment, how the Government, after consultation with the Organising Committee, see the balance between full-time and part-time members in the early years of the library's existence and our thoughts on the question whether the first chairman should be full-time or part-time.

With all there is to be done in the initial stages, we think that the best arrangement is to provide for a responsibility for the execution of the board's policies shared between a chairman serving part-time and a full-time chief executive and deputy chairman. Three other full-time members would combine the dual role of sharing the responsibility for board policy and having charge, as executives responsible to the chief executive, of the three main operational areas of the library's services—Reference, Lending and Bibliographic Services. These have emerged from the Organising Committee's study of the pattern needed for the organisation of the principal functions of the institution. The fourth main area—administration, finance and other functions common to all parts of the library—would be the natural responsibility of the chief executive.

The part-time members—and paragraphs (b) and (c) of Clause 2(1) recognise the special position of King George Ill's Library and the unique role which the British Museum's collections as a whole will play in the total collections in the board's charge—will have a function to perform, different, but of no less importance to the success of the library, of ensuring that the board's policies and operation are closely related to the needs of the library's users.

The intention of Clause 2(2) is to give the appointing Minister an indication of the types of experience on which to draw in making appointments to the board. It does not attempt to set out an exhaustive list. I gladly repeat the assurance given by my noble Friend the Paymaster-General in another place and, incidentally, mentioned in the White Paper, that three of the part-time members will be appointed after consultation respectively with the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry, for Scotland and for Wales. It is also the intention that the interests of literature and science, of commerce as well as industry, and of the patent community—an important community in this respect—will be taken into account in selecting members for the board or for the advisory councils.

Clause 3 deals with the transfer of the contents of the British Museum Library departments from the ownership of the Museum trustees to that of the British Library Board, and these provisions have been discussed with the trustees. I do not think it is necessary for me to go into detail, but I shall be happy to answer questions to the best of my ability at the end.

The Committee will realise that the provisions of Clause 3(6) are to provide interim arrangements to deal with the period of 12 years or so until all the new accommodation in Bloomsbury is ready and the board can transfer the collections from the existing buildings for which, of course, the trustees will retain responsibility.

I do not think there is any point in Clause 4 to which I need draw special attention. It is purely consequential in transferring to the board the copyright deposit provisions and for making the board an exempt charity.

In due time, if the Committee agrees to recommend the Second Reading, I shall in Committee be moving Amendments to insert Clause 5, which for purely procedural reasons was not considered by another place. The words before us will, I hope, reflect up-to-date thinking in the appropriate relationship in financial matters between the Government, on the one hand, as the provider of grants, and the independent body, on the other, which will be receiving those grants.

It would be quite wrong not to allow the board to enjoy the maximum freedom over its internal affairs consistent with the broad objectives of Government policy, but it is reasonable that it acts in accordance with any directions which may be given to it by the Secretary of State for the time being over the use of moneys voted by Parliament, and there will be provisions enabling the Secretary of State to require payments into the Consolidated Fund of moneys received by the board for services provided.

Meanwhile, the Committee will note from the Explanatory Memorandum that we expect the total grant-in-aid from the Consolidated Fund to be about £6 million in 1973–74, rising to about £7 million in five years' time, this expenditure taking the place almost entirely of the present expenditure which is devoted to grants to the British Museum Library and the other libraries which will form the British Library.

The Committee knows that charges are already imposed for photocopying and loan services and we shall need to bear in mind the possibility of technological developments and demand for additional services—for example, the facsimile transmission of material, which will enable readers to use it at considerable cost to the library, unless a charge could be imposed.

I propose not to take the Committee through the Schedule except to make clear one point which may otherwise be the subject of misunderstanding. The Explanatory Memorandum talks about a reduction of staff of the public service. This is an accurate statement of fact, but it does not mean that there will be a reduction of those engaged in the operation. It is a consequential result of the Bill. Since that has been the subject of some misunderstanding elsewhere, I make the point expressly.

Paragraph 13(1) of the Schedule gives expression to the intention of the White Paper that the staff of the British Library will be employed on terms and conditions which, taken as a whole, will be no less favourable than those they have enjoyed in the four institutions from which they will have been transferred. I can give the assurance that the closest contacts have been established between the Organising Committee and the present staffs and that these will continue.

I hope that I have maintained the balance between not being unduly lengthy and not failing to do justice to this important matter. I should like to think that the establishment of the British Library brings to end a long period of uncertainty and will be a great benefit to the library services of this country. The Government intend to set up the board as soon as is practicable after the Royal Assent has been given. I hope that the Committee will feel able to agree that the Bill should have a Second Reading.

Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, North)

First, I should thank the Under-Secretary for his lucid exposition of the principles of the Bill. Perhaps the most important thing that I ought to say, in view of the fact that some of us are fresh from some vigorous jousting on the Museum and Galleries Admission Charges Bill, is that the Opposition welcome this Bill enthusiastically, and thus put the Under-Secretary out of any agony of suspense.

The Bill has a widespread parentage. It arises out of public outcry over the original proposals for the site in 1967 and informed public opinion has had its say. The experts were gathered under Dr. Dainton's Committee to have their say, and they produced a report which is substantially incorporated in the Bill. The Committee was set up by the Labour Government and it has fallen to the Conservative Government to give it legislative form and bring it to life.

We welcome the Bill for a number of reasons, some more important than others. One of the reasons is that it seems like an old-fashioned nationalisation Measure in that it sets up a "public authority", as the Government calls it. I should have called it a "public corporation" to take over these four bodies and weld them into one. We were pleased and happy that when the Government saw the imaginative scheme worked out by Dr. Dainton, they quelled any cries of bureaucratic centralism which may have arisen half uttered from their breasts and did the reasonable and imaginative thing.

We are also pleased to see that the lending facilities of the library will be in the region of Boston Spa. We regard this as being an attractive feature of the scheme. It means that one of the more labour-intensive aspects of the library will be out in the regions, in Yorkshire, and will provide Yorkshire with a share in the centre of a national institution. We welcome it for this reason.

We welcome Clause 1(3)(b) which gives the British Library Board power to use its funds to develop in the long run regional libraries of science and technology. We are a little disappointed that the Government will not go ahead with it at the moment, but we realise that there are substantial problems. As the Under-Secretary has pointed out, the British Library Board will have a hefty task in the next few years. We do not want to quarrel with the Government's decision where they say in the White Paper on page 3, paragraph 6: It may be found that the considerable duplication of stocks implied in setting up regional libraries would be justified, but more time and experience are needed before deciding whether to embark on such an expensive policy. We shall be vigilant to ensure that the Government are not faint-hearted in studying the problems and implications of regional libraries and, if the obstacles do not prove insuperable, in setting them up and creating them, for very much the same reasons as we welcome the creation of the lending facilities of the library at Boston Spa.

Above all, we welcome the Bill because action was urgently needed in respect of the British Museum library. I remember being told some years ago by my wife, who was doing research work in London at the time, that if one wanted to get any work done one had to keep clear of the British Museum library because it took so long, often a matter of hours, for books to be traced and brought to the light of day. I understand that the whole site is incredibly cramped, with insufficient staff to supervise the proper recording and registering of all the books and publications that the museum has to handle, and no proper storage space so that many of the books and periodicals must be stowed away in warehouses scattered over London. The situation which pertains there is not one that a country which hopes to play a large part in the future of civilisation could regard with any degree of pride, and it was absolutely essential that something should be done.

I am very pleased that the Government have decided to adopt the imaginative Dainton scheme. That is an encouraging portent for the future. One might say that the Department of Education and Science has moved away from what one might regard as its "school milk" era and has decided to adopt a broad, imaginative approach to the problems of the future. At any rate, I live in hope, and I shall remain hopeful until I am given reason for disillusion.

Mr. John Smith (Lanarkshire, North)

Look at the other side of the Committee. There is reason for disillusion there!

Mr. Moyle

No doubt my hon. Friend will make that point at some stage.

The idea of a British Library is essential in the remaining years of this century. There has been a rapid increase in human knowledge. Probably more human knowledge has been accumulated in the past 20 years than throughout the whole of human history before that. A very powerful organisation is required to accumulate this vast mass of knowledge and, having accumulated it, a very efficient and complex one is required to retrieve it when necessary.

I think that the British Library will give the country an organisation which will meet the requirements of the last quarter of this century and the early part of the next. This morning we are giving Britain an organisation which will meet the requirements of research workers and seekers after knowledge of all types. The Government were wise to draft the Bill sufficiently widely to cover knowledge in all its recorded forms. As the Under-Secretary said, ingenuity is continually creating new forms of recording human knowledge. I think that the Bill is so drafted as to allow the British Library to acquire all such knowledge in whatever form it presents itself and to keep it for reference and study.

I am pleased also at the imaginative approach to the site which has been adopted—the idea that we should have a large site in the centre of London for the main institutions of the library. There is provision for the preservation of the historically and architecturally interesting buildings of the site, but there will be a comprehensive development with shops and houses as well. The main buildings will be in the centre of the capital, which I believe will lend attraction.

When it comes to the preservation of modern buildings, I think we have learned from the Barbican and other schemes that modern buildings can be enhanced by judicial preservation of the old and that old buildings can be offset attractively by a curtilage of new architecture. To a large extent, we are in the hands of our experts for the final outcome of the British Library site, but at least we, as politicians, can make sure that the scope for the experts to work is not cramped or limited by the powers we confer upon them for carrying out their task. I note with pleasure that Mr. Colin St. John Wilson has been appointed as the architect for the whole project.

A good Bill, perhaps particularly because it is a good Bill, presents a greater challenge to improve it. Therefore, we shall welcome a Committee stage to try to improve on this good Bill. We are not entirely happy with the idea that Members of Parliament cannot serve on the board. Obviously they cannot serve for remuneration on the board, but a Member of Parliament who is interested in the work of British libraries should not be barred from giving his advice and expertise to the board purely on the basis that he is a Member of Parliament. We shall probably want to look at the honoraria paid to board members, since both the Government and Opposition will want to attract the highest quality people to the board. Given the pressures of modern life, we may not be able to do so unless we are completely confident that such people can be protected from financial loss as a result of serving on the board.

There may be other points that we wish to make when we look at the Bill in detail, but at this stage it only remains for me to wish the architect well in the task which he has undertaken and to assure the Under-Secretary that the Opposition intend to give the Bill an unimpeded Second Reading.

11.4 a.m.

Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)

I join the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) in his widespread congratulations to the many people and organisations who have played a major part in bringing this project to its present state. I congratulate particularly my right hon. and noble Friend the Paymaster-General. Of all the people involved, his energy and experience and, above all, his enthusiasm has been a determining factor. I say this because I have not always been entirely enthusiastic about everything that my right hon. Friend has done; no doubt he is the sort of man with whom one does not always agree in every respect. The balance is that he has the energy and determination to see projects such as this through to fulfilment, whereas lesser men sometimes lose heart along the line.

I wish to detain the Committee on two points, one minor and one substantial. The minor point is in Clause 2(1), dealing with the composition of the British Library Board. This matter was considered in some detail in another place. I merely observe that if certain categories of experience are to be listed in Clause 2(2), I regret the absence of any reference to science and technology. There was a discussion in the other place and the word "business" was deleted and the word "industry" introduced, but if these other areas of scholarship and experience are to be listed, I feel that science and technology should be added.

An alternative way to draft the Clause would be to list none of them and use a general word such as "scholarship", which I suggest would cover it all. Possibly my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will give that suggestion some consideration and say something about it later.

My substantial point is that the British Library will be a great national library and it is important that we and the public should realise that it is national and not just a great library for the metropolis. As the hon. Member for Lewisham, North said, with the lending services located at Boston Spa, it will be apparent that this is a national library and not just one for London. But it will be a library of last resort, and the Committee will be familiar with its three specific objectives laid down in paragraph 3 of the White Paper. I remind the Committee of them briefly. First: The aim will be to provide as comprehensive a reference service of last resort as possible. The second objective is to provide an efficient central lending and photocopying service"— and note these words— in support of the other libraries and information systems of the country", and, thirdly, to provide: …central cataloguing and other bibliographic services…". I believe that in this day and age, to allow the speed and efficiency with which the British Library can fulfil those three objectives, remembering that their principal customers will be other libraries and, secondly, individual scholars and readers, it is essential that they make more extensive use of automatic data processing—in other words, the computer. I should like to ask my hon. Friend whether any provision has been made for the use of computers, both in planning the architecture and layout of the buildings, and in the financial provision for the construction. I realise that it takes a long time to introduce computers gradually over these three services, but I suggest that it would be a grave omission if provision were not made at this stage, though it would be churlish of me to press my hon. Friend or the Organising Committee to state specifically what systems they will be using five or 10 years hence.

The modern computer—particularly if there is a computer grid linking major libraries with the National Library—will enable one to deal not only more efficiently but, once the system is installed, much more cheaply with each item of information handled. I am sure that all hon. Members of the Committee have at some point seen a major computer information system at work. I am sure that any of the major computer manufacturers would be delighted to show this to any hon. Member.

I hope therefore that my hon. Friend, when he speaks again, will reassure me on this matter. The only reference to it which I found was tucked away in paragraph 19 of the White Paper, which said: In addition it may be found necessary to invest in automatic data processing. I do not like the words "it may be found". It is necessary.

It is by taking the lead in this sort of major data processing that I believe the Government and the public sector generally can play an enormous part in giving the British computer industry an opportunity to lead in this field. I believe that if in the next few years we could produce in this country a major computer grid system to fulfil the three objectives of this great British Library, we would have something which would be not only of inestimable value to the rest of the world but of great financial benefit to the British computer industry.

11.11 a.m.

Mr. Gordon Oakes (Widnes)

I agree with the Bill. I agree with every word that the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) has said. On the question of computers, he has put his finger on something that seemed to be lacking in the White Paper, in which there is particular stress on the word "photocopying." Photocopying in the remaining years of this decade will be an almost archaic process. There will be no need to have papers photocopied. Computer systems already exist whereby information can be retrieved and transmitted instantly by television to output points, without the laborious business of photocopying.

The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right in what he said about the provision for a computer at the start of the life of this library, with a forward-looking view as to its duties to other libraries, and to the provision of information for the public. When the Minister appoints the British Library Board I hope that he will bear in mind the views of the hon. Gentleman and of industry and science that at least one member, and preferably more than one, should have technological knowledge of computers; not only of their present capacity, but of what they may be able to do in the future in the supply and distribution of information.

The change of name is valuable. Britain has long needed a British library. The British Museum gives the wrong concept of a modern library. A library has been defined as a collection of books, and the title "British Museum" tends to give that image of the collection of things. A library today is really a storehouse of accessible information, and the change of name to the British National Library is a good one from the image point of view alone.

We tend to be full of Anglo-Saxon arrogance. This is not a British library—it is really an English library—because we have not integrated the Scottish and Welsh National Libraries, but there must be the closest cooperation between the national libraries of the three countries so that information from any one library is available to the others. In that way we would create a truly British library, and not merely an English one.

I regret much more than my hon. Friend does the fact that the Government are not pursuing the recommendation of the Dainton Committee for the establishment of a regional structure of libraries. In the White Paper the Minister points out the difficulties of this, not least the difficulty of expense, but when one considers the value that a library is to industry, to commerce, to learning and to the community as a whole, one realises that it is money well spent. The libraries in the regions should in some way be integrated into a national library. I hope that the Minister and the board will look to the regions for the rich material which they could provide for the setting up of such a library.

The British Library should be the apex of a comprehensive library system in this country. Subsection (3) integrates the libraries of this country with the new British Library, and it is important that it should. Over the decades there has been the feeling in the library world that the British Museum was apart from and out of the library structure of this country. It should not be. It should be at the apex of it.

Subsection (3) does not widen the imaginative possibilities of the integration of this country's excellent libraries with the British Library. It should be a two-way transaction. Information and advice should be able to be given from the British Library to district libraries, to county libraries and university libraries, and vice versa. I stress most of all the point forcefully and clearly made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh that it is necessary, at the outset, for the national library to look closely at modern and future methods for the instant transmission of information. We have a chance to make this the leading library in the world.

11.15 a.m.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

We are congratulating ourselves and our right hon. Friends but the background to the setting up of this library is a disgrace. The new building on the Blooms-bury site was mooted 28 years ago and 21 years ago it was incorporated into the LCC Development Plan. It survived a public inquiry and was approved by the Minister of Housing 17 years ago. Architects were appointed 10 years ago and outline plans were accepted eight years ago. Six years ago, the Camden Council objected and, in October, 1967, the Socialist Government said that the project was off.

We have not a great deal on which to congratulate ourselves. We must now ensure that there are no further delays. I read in the White Paper that the building will take another 13 years to erect. What happens in the meantime, and what contingency plans have the libraries? In an article in the Guardian on 9th April, 1970, it was said that, from a sample, taken in 1968, of 1,595 readers who visited the British Museum, only 458 reported having received their book in half an hour, while 621 had to wait an hour for their book and 366 waited up to an hour and a half. In the summer of 1970, the secretary of the British Museum was warning overseas scholars that conditions that summer were likely to be still worse. What will they be like this summer?

I mention these points only because I think that the Government have at long last turned words into deeds, and welcome they are. I should like the Committee to emphasise the need for the greatest possible dispatch. We do not want to wait a single year more. We need confirmation from the Opposition that, no matter what political dangers lie ahead, the British Library will be built on schedule.

Mr. Moyle

I am much encouraged by the thought that the fate of the British Library lies in our hands and not those of the Conservative Party.

Mr. Hill

I bear in mind every possible alternative, and that is one remote possibility.

In the selection of the persons to be appointed to the Board—and I see that we are going back to part-time members and I think that this may be the only way to get the cream, particularly where technology is concerned—I emphasise that we should not consider a self-perpetuating board in any form. I agree with the Opposition that there seems to be room on the board for a Member of Parliament. At a time like the present, when we are dealing with matters of such importance, a Member of Parliament, even if he could do no good, could certainly do no harm and might assist with solving problems and bring reality to the board.

I should like to think that the Committee will finish quickly and that we shall not waste even one more day.

11.20 a.m.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

I warmly endorse the feeling of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill) that the Committee should complete its business quickly. I believe that it will because there is general agreement and I hope that the Government will press on with the work involved in adopting the Bill as quickly as possible.

It is particularly pleasurable to be a member of this Committee, which is being led by the Under-Secretary for Education and Science, and being on this occasion able to agree with the policy which he is putting forward. I was rather surprised when I came in to find that the Under-Secretary was still wearing his battle-dress. I remember what happened on the last occasion when we sat together and he was embattled most of the time, fighting valiantly against the Opposition who had conclusive arguments to undermine his Bill. He did his best, by the plausible but quite inconclusive points which he made, to maintain the position of the Government. On this occasion we are, I think, all in complete agreement and the atmosphere, instead of being militant as it was on that occasion, is one of general goodwill.

I should like to say something about the history of this matter, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill), because I was, to some extent, involved in this. It is true, as the hon. Member said, that the proposal to build the library on the site between Great Russell Street and Oxford Street had been generally accepted for about 20 to 30 years; for a long time the area had been frozen and nothing was allowed to be built on it because it was generally assumed that the library was to be built there. There were long delays, but everyone expected that.

Then, as the hon. Member said, in 1967, in a moment of aberration, the Labour Government said that because of housing needs of Camden Council, and for a number of other good reasons, the library could not be built on that site. That moment of aberration, which was quite incredible, was almost as serious and devastating as the aberration of the present Government and the Paymaster-General in bringing forward a Bill to tax visitors to art galleries and museums. At the time I expressed in the House of Commons, as did many of my colleagues, my strong disapproval of the Government's decision. Fortunately, although we were told by the Minister then in charge of the matter and by the Minister who followed him that this decision was irrevocable, such was the logic of the facts that before long the responsible Minister had the grace and courage to revoke that irrevocable decision. That was after the Dainton Committee, set up by the Minister, had reported along the lines which we all know.

We now have the happy outcome that not the British Museum Library but the British Library, which will incorporate the British Museum Library, will be built on this site and I, like others, hope that it will not be long before work starts and the library is completed.

There are a number of detailed points which one could raise and probably will in Committee. However, the general picture and the facts given to us show there is an overwhelming desire to give the Bill an early Second Reading, and I am content to reserve my comments to a later stage.

Having read every word said about the Bill in the other place, both on Second Reading and in Committee stage, I am of the opinion that the arguments against improvement and alteration were gone over thoroughly. A number of important changes were made in the Bill as a result of these discussions and the Bill as presented to us today is in pretty good shape, with one or two exceptions. I do not think that much time will have to be spent in trying to alter the Bill, because there are only two or three Amendments of outstanding importance.

I warmly welcome the Bill, as does everyone else. I am anxious that this great venture shall be carried to fruition as quickly as possible. There is no doubt that when it is finished—and one assumes that the architecture will be appropriate to the purpose and spirit of the venture—the British Library will be a great addition to British culture and will probably be the greatest and finest library in the world.

I warmly congratulate the Government on bringing this matter forward. I only wish that the Paymaster-General, who, when he was Chairman of the Trustees of the British Museum, fought hammer and tongs against the Government of the day when they refused to allow a national British Museum Library to be built on that site, had remained in that position so that he could have fought—as I am sure he would have done—with the same energy, skill and determination the present Government's proposals to make entrance taxes to the British Museum payable by all people, without allowing even one free day. If we had that support from the Chairman of the Trustees, with all the energy which he displayed in other matters, we would be much happier with the Government's record on the arts.

I warmly endorse the Bill and wish the Government success in carrying it through as speedily as possible.

11.26 a.m.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)

May I, too, warmly endorse the Bill, and ask one pertinent question? May we have an assurance from the Government that there is no intention, either now or in future, of transferring the British Library to Brussels?

11.27 a.m.

Mr. van Straubenzee

With your permission, Captain Elliot, and that of the Committee, may I reply briefly to what I think we would all agree has been a helpful, welcoming and constructive debate. I am much obliged to the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) for the way in which he welcomed the Bill on behalf of the Opposition. It is entirely appropriate and proper that it should be given an examination in Committee and when that time comes we shall want to look at the points hon. Members wish to examine more fully, including the question of whether Members of Parliament, in an unpaid capacity, can properly be members of the board. I am bound to say in passing that, if the Bill were to be amended, I can think of reasons more persuasive for adding hon. Members to the board than that adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill), which was that at least they could not do any harm.

I am grateful, too, for the kindly welcome of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). As the Committee knows, he not only has great expertise in these matters but he has been very much at the centre of this argument. Clearly it is a matter of considerable satisfaction to him that we are now at this stage. He was kind enough to make reference to my being in battle-dress. May I return the compliment by saying that one of the things that always sustained me throughout the discussions we had on another Bill was to look forward to the delightful tie he would be wearing the next day, and he invariably rose to the occasion, as indeed he has today.

I should like to take the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) and reinforced by the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes). I think I can give the sort of assurance that my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman would wish. Provision will certainly be made, both financially—which was a point particularly made by my hon. Friend—and in the planning of the new buildings, for the provision of computer services. I can go a little further than that and say that the place of ADP in the British Library has been the subject of a special study which has been financed by my Department. The report of this study will be published before the end of the summer and I shall make sure that my hon. Friend has it drawn especially to his attention. The Organising Committee has already seen this report and has taken it into account in its present planning. I hope that that assurance will be of assistance to my hon. Friend. His point was important and essential, and I am grateful to him for making it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test, was wise to make sure that not too much euphoria was engendered and he was also wise to remind us of the long way that we have come. I am not able to give an absolute assurance to the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell), but he can be fairly satisfied that there are no present intentions of creating the geographical changes that he so clearly dreads.

I hope that I have answered all the points that have been made. I end as I began by expressing appreciation for the general welcome that has been given to the Bill, because we are starting on a very important task.

May I now, on behalf of the Committee, express my grateful thanks to you, Captain Elliot? This has perhaps not been the most difficult Committee over which you have presided and, if the others over which you preside are as agreeable as this one has been, what I hope will be your long period of chairing Committees will be a very pleasant one.

Mr. Moyle

I should like to associate the Opposition wholeheartedly with those remarks.

The Chairman

Thank you.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the British Library Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time.

Committee adjourned at twenty-seven minutes to Twelve o'clock.

Elliot, Captain Walter (Chairman) Jopling, Mr.
Cooke, Mr. Robert Loveridge, Mr.
Dormand, Mr. Mitchell, Mr. R. C.
Evans, Mr. Fred Moyle, Mr.
Grylls, Mr. Oakes, Mr.
Hall-Davis, Mr. Price, Mr. David
Harper, Mr. Smith, Mr. John
Hayhoe, Mr. Strauss, Mr.
Hiley, Mr. van Straubenzee, Mr.
Hill, Mr. James