HC Deb 05 November 1979 vol 973 cc24-6
25. Mr. Dobson

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what is the current state of the British Library project in Euston Road; when the land surplus to British Library requirements is to be released for local purposes; and whether, in the light of technological change, he is prepared to reconsider the whole project so that it would take up much less space.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The site for the new building is being cleared as planned. The release of land surplus to British Library requirements is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I am not aware of any technological development which would enable us to make a significant reduction in the space required.

Mr. Dobson

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that while reading room and display space will be necessary for any new British Library, present technological changes suggest that, with regard to information storage and retrieval—and that is what the British Library is about—there will be a massive reduction in the demand for space in a central area building such as the one in Euston Road? Therefore, does he not agree that it should be possible to release surplus land from that project to improve the quality of life of the people in Somers Town who live next to the project?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that the saving from any micro-filming process would be quite on the scale suggested by the hon. Gentleman. I am certainly looking at the possibilities that he has raised, and I intend to make a comprehensive statement about the whole future of the scheme in due course.

Mr. Cormack

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his last remarks will be greeted with considerable relief in many quarters, because there is great misgiving about the future of this project? Will he promise that the review will be thorough?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. There has been concern about various projects in the arts, but one may draw comfort from the fact that the Government have made it clear, first, that the national heritage fund is to go ahead and, secondly, that the public lending right scheme is to be preserved. I hope that we shall have a similarly happy outcome with regard to the British Library.

Mr. Waldegrave

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many hon. Members will agree with the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) and hope that the result of his wide-ranging study on the British Library scheme will be that it is not now necessary?

Mr. St. John Stevas

I certainly do not exclude that possibility, but I would not like to depress my hon. Friend's hopes any further.