HC Deb 22 January 2001 vol 361 cc648-9
10. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

What guidance he gives to the British Library concerning its policy of retaining a copy of every publication published in the UK. [144788]

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Alan Howarth)

We do not provide guidance on that matter as it falls entirely within the responsibility of the British Library. Section 15 of the Copyright Act 1911, as amended, requires a copy of every book published in the United Kingdom to be delivered to the British Library. The board of the British Library is aware of the important responsibility that it bears as the repository of our literacy heritage and its policy is to retain all material received under the legal deposit legislation.

Mr. Prentice

I find that reply immensely reassuring because I found myself believing a report in The Guardian[Interruption.] We should never believe what we read in The Guardian. A report of 11 August 2000 directly quotes a British Library spokesperson as saying: The discarding of books is an ongoing process. Reference is made to 80,000 books having been binned—weeded out by very junior staff—although I understand that that report and others that appeared in the national press is false. However, is it true that 10 per cent. of the national newspaper collection in Colindale is to be destroyed if it is not sold?

Mr. Howarth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his vigilance and concern. I believe a lot of what I read in The Guardian, but that story was comprehensively misinformed. The British Library is conscious of the important responsibility that it bears as the repository of our heritage of printed books and is committed to collecting and retaining all British material received by legal deposit. It has never discarded such books, and I am assured that it has no intention of doing so now. Some years ago, the library disposed of large numbers of United States Government publications, all of which were already archived in the United States, but it is certainly no part of British Library policy or practice to engage in the sort of activities about which my hon. Friend has been so exercised.

Mr. Fearn

Is it also the policy of the British Library to allow its extensive and very good property to be used for other cultural activities? For example, at one time it was suggested that dance events would occur there. Is it going to introduce other cultural activities and, if so, will it charge for them?

Mr. Howarth

That is entirely a matter for the British Library. I have had the pleasure of seeing some wonderful exhibitions in the gallery in the new building, and the hon. Gentleman may have seen the remarkable tapestry that hangs by the staircase. However, it is for the director of the British Library to respond to such issues, and no doubt he will address himself to those matters.