HC Deb 15 March 1977 vol 928 cc195-6
4. Mr. Cormack

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions she has held and what representations she has received about the future of the Evelyn Library.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

While the Government have received representations from Christ Church, Oxford, the Friends of the National Libraries, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) and three members of the public, they have received none whatsoever from the trustees. My noble Friend is considering, in consultation with the British Library, whether there is any way in which the collection can be kept together.

Mr. Cormack

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply, particularly her last few words. Does she agree that this is a collection of pre-eminent importance and that everything possible should be done to keep it in the country? Will she take a personal interest in doing just that?

Mrs. Williams

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have already taken a personal interest. The problem is whether the trustees also appreciate the importance of keeping the collection together. There is, at least in law, no way in which the Government can compel them to put the collection forward for public purchase or purchase in any other way.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Does the right hon Lady realise that her Department is gaining a reputation for philistine indifference to the future of our national heritage, what with Mentmore, first, and the Evelyn collection, second? Will she wake her noble colleague the Minister responsible for the arts, now almost invisible, out of his slumbers and get him to call a conference between representatives of the family, representatives of the British Library's Board and Treasury officials, so that something can be done by the Government to keep this unique library intact for the benefit of the nation?

Mrs. Williams

My best response to the hon. Gentleman is to say that one can take a horse to water but one cannot make it drink. That is the precise situation with regard to the Evelyn Collection.