HL Deb 09 April 1963 vol 248 cc924-66

3.3 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill proposes to extend the space and the functions of the British Museum but to contract the number of its Trustees. It also proposes to set up a separate body of Trustees for the Natural History Museum at Kensington. I shall, if I may, say a word first about the administrative changes which are proposed and then about the functional changes.

The present body of Trustees consists of fifty-one persons. The three principal Trustees are the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, my noble friend the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker of the House of Commons. Then there are twenty-three ex officio Trustees, mostly members of the Government or other officials, but including four nominated, the Presidents of the Royal Society, the Royal College of Physicians, the Society of Antiquaries, and the Royal Academy; and there is one, Lord Cambridge, personally appointed by the Sovereign. There are nine family Trustees whose appointment is at the disposition of the representatives of families who have made in the past considerable donations to the Museum. There are fifteen others who are elected by the remainder of the Trustees, the senior of whom is the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, who is shortly to speak.

Of those 51, a very large number are Members of your Lordships' House. Besides the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chancellor, who are two of the principal Trustees, there are the Lord President of the Council, who is the Leader of your Lordships' House, and the First Lord of the Admiralty. There are also the Lord Chamberlain, and the Duke of Hamilton, who is Lord Steward. And among the elected Trustees there are also many of your Lordships; besides my noble friend Lord Crawford there are Lord de L'Isle, who is now in Australia, Lord Radcliffe, Lord Hurcomb and Lord Boyd of Merton. I hope that some of your Lordships who are now Trustees will be on the new body, but in case they are not all on it I should like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the Government, of thanking noble Lords who are Trustees for the very valuable work which they have done for science, art and education in this country.

The new body proposed by the Bill will consist of only 25 Trustees. As your Lordships will see from Clause 1, one is to be appointed by Her Majesty; fifteen to be appointed by the Prime Minister; four to be appointed on the nomination of the Presidents of the Royal Society, the Royal Academy, the British Academy and the Society of Antiquaries of London respectively. Three of these societies are already represented on the old body of Trustees. I understand that, in view of the very long ex officio connection of the Archbishop of Canterbury with the Trustees of the British Museum, the question of the most reverend Primate's position has been discussed between himself and the Prime Minister. I am informed that the most reverend Primate has suggested that if an Archbishop of Canterbury expresses a particular desire to be a Trustee the Prime Minister should agree to consider favourably appointing him as one when a vacancy occurs; and the Prime Minister has agreed that, so far as he is concerned, this is acceptable to him, although of course he cannot undertake to bind his successors.

I think it is a little sad that the family Trustees should disappear after having had in many cases such a long connection with the body of Trustees. I was glad to see in the Reports of the proceedings on this Bill in another place that it was suggested by one honourable Member, who is himself a family Trustee, that some form of association should be established between the new body of Trustees and those families who have given, or who may in the future give, large donations to the Museum. My honourable friend the Economic Secretary, who was in charge of the Bill, said that although he could not undertake to write anything of this kind into the Bill he thought it was a valuable suggestion and that there was nothing in the Bill to prevent the new body of Trustees from acting upon it.

The other administrative change, in Clause 7, is the administrative separation of the British Museum from the Natural History Museum at Kensington. I think this is the only major proposal in the Bill which has not met with fairly general assent. There has been a lot of debate about it. The Government take the view that since the main body of the Museum at Bloomsbury and the Natural History Museum are separate institutions for most practical purposes, it would be sensible and reasonable that they should have separate bodies of Trustess, each of whom can concentrate their endeavours on one of these two institutions. But I am informed that the Prime Minister has expressed his willingness to try to find some people who may be willing to serve on both Trustee bodies, and there is nothing to prevent some consultative machinery of a permanent nature being set up between the two bodies of Trustees, if they think it is a good plan.

In the Committee stage of the Bill in another place, in Standing Committee A, an Amendment to leave out Clause 7 was rejected by ten votes to seven. The same Amendment was moved and discussed again on the Report stage of the Bill downstairs and it was withdrawn on the rather interesting ground that the movers did not wish to prejudice the matter when it came to be discussed by your Lordships. I do not know whether there was any special reason for this rather gratifying and slightly unusual compliment to your Lordships' House. It might possibly have been that some of the promoters thought the Amendment had not much chance of being carried in another place, whereas they may perhaps have hoped that it had a much better chance of being carried by your Lordships, and they did not wish anybody to feel that they were creating a disagreement between the two Houses—I do not know. Anyhow, I shall not try at this stage to anticipate anything which your Lordships may wish to say on this subject.

As for the changes in functions, they are concerned with storage, with lending, with the disposal of unwanted objects and with the authorised repositories which are described in Clause 9 and the Third Schedule. As for storage, in Clause 3(2) of the Bill for the first time the Trustees are given power to store objects at other premises than the authorised repositories in Great Britain, if they are satisfied that they can be stored in those premises without detriment to the purposes of the Museum. This may be most necessary as a temporary measure before the new Library can be in use, since the old one is simply bursting at the seams with a plethora of books.

Then, as for lending, in Clause 4 reasonably wide powers are, I think, given to the Museum to lend objects. Until now, it has not been possible to do so. Last year your Lordships may perhaps remember, when the Museum wanted to lend certain exhibits to the Vienna Exhibition in the Council of Europe, they could not do so without legislation, and a Bill authorising that was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb. Clause 5 gives power to the Museum to dispose of, or, in some cases, destroy objects, subject to certain conditions. Subsection (1)(b) particularly refers to printed matter which has been produced no earlier than the year 1850, and substantially consists of matter of which a copy is made by a microfilm. One reason, I think, for choosing the date of 1850 is, that in the middle of the last century the quality of paper was greatly changed for the worse. Instead of the old rag paper, wood-pulp paper was substituted which deteriorates much more quickly. So nothing is allowed to be destroyed if it has been pubished before 1850. After that date it can be disposed of if there is a microfilm taken of it. I am sure that the Trustees will use this power with great care and discretion.

I think one of the most unhappy things about modern journalism is the disappearance of all the old monthly magazines and periodicals, because they do not earn enough advertising revenue to carry on. Although I have not any time at present to go to Colindale (perhaps I shall have time some day), I like to think that I have the right to go out there and to look up any old copy of Blackwood's Magazine, or the Fortnightly Review, or the Cornhill magazine, or one of the old Strand Magazines which have the original Sherlock Holmes stories in them. I have the feeling that if they were microfilmed, the print would not be large enough for me to read, and if it were enlarged it would take a long time to do it.

Then the authorised repositories are described in Clause 9 and the Third Schedule. That, of course, covers only what is already acquired, part of the new proposed Library at Bloomsbury, and the Library at Colindale. But it is provided in Clause 9 that the Schedule may be added to, or amended, by reference to a further site, and such an order should be made by statutory instrument subject to annulment—that is, subject to a Negative Resolution. The proposed new Library opposite the existing Museum building is going to be bounded by Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury Square, Bloomsbury Way, New Oxford Street and Bloomsbury Street. With the exception of St. George's Church, it is intended to provide about one million square feet of storage space for books, and the two architects, Sir Leslie Martin and Mr. Colin St. John Wilson, were appointed last July as consultant architects to prepare a plan for the development of the site and a design for the building. They have been asked to have the plans ready by the end of this year, 1963; but it will take a long time to build and it is estimated to cost £10 million.

The other new premise, which will be available sooner than that, is the National Reference Library of Science, which is going to be built on the South Bank, where work is going to start next year; and this Library, it is hoped, may be able to start functioning in 1966. It is going to include the existing Patent Office Library, but it will all be administered as part of the British Museum. It is not necessary for me to stress to your Lordships how great is the need for this new extension for the storage of books, as it cannot have escaped your Lordships' attention that modern literature is not getting any less in volume. Some people wish that it was, but, of course, we are not under any obligation to read it. I confess that I fully avail myself of my own freedom not to do so. But however trivial and however inferior any publication may be, its publication is a fact, an event in the history of the world which cannot be obliterated by the destruction of the publication, and it is right that we should be willing to preserve a thousand bad books or pamphlets or papers on the chance that one of them may be of interest to some future research worker.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl before he leaves the subject of what he calls the storage of books? Could he not tell us a little more about the National Science Library—he did refer to it—which certainly does not exist just for the storage of books?


No, it does not exist just for the storage of books; neither does the new Library at Bloomsbury. They exist for the reading of books, and I shall certainly be willing to develop any further points which Lord Shackleton would like me to do when I wind up the debate. I think it will be better if I bring in the Bill with a short explanation of its purposes, and I look forward with great pleasure to hearing many of your Lordships who know a great deal more about the subject than I do. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Dundee.)

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, I think it is appropriate I should say something on this Bill as one of the three principal Trus- tees in the present constitution. For a very long time the Archbishops of Canterbury have had the privilege of serving the British Museum and have acted as chairmen of its standing committee. I should like to say that, before ever the radical changes in the constitution under this Bill were proposed, I had come to the conclusion that the effective working of the Museum called for the appointment of a chairman who could give more constant time and attention to the Museum than an Archbishop of Canterbury, however much he enjoys the privilege, is likely under modern conditions to be able to give.

I am glad the Government have promoted this Bill, and I think it will enable both the British Museum in Bloomsbury and the British Museum (Natural History) in Cromwell Road to serve the community more efficiently. I mention the latter Museum under the title which I am very glad it still will have under the new constitution. It is, and will continue to be, proud of the title British Museum, but it will be glad of its independence as a mature institution. I know that some anxiety was expressed in another place about the separation, and some of the present Trustees have shared this anxiety. The anxiety is lest the dual arrangements of the Museums should encourage the idea of two rigidly separate cultures, and assist the tendency to sever the arts and sciences into two camps. There is, of course, territory in which both Museums can be interested, but I do not think that more is needed than an awareness of this problem by those who will nominate the Trustees of the two bodies, and, as the noble Earl said in introducing the Bill, it should be possible to secure in practice the co-operation which is desirable.

It is difficult not to be moved when one sees the vast crowds coming, not only from this country but from many parts of the world, to see our Museums; and they come not just as gazers, for so much is done unobtrusively to instruct and to give people an imaginative understanding of what they are looking at. It all helps to keep alive the sense of history, the sense of culture, the sense of beauty, and the sense of wonder. I should like here to pay tribute to the staffs of the Museums for all that they do in the service of the Museums and of the public. We need as much flexibility as possible to enable the loaning of treasures between different parts of the world, and it is a valuable provision within the Bill to enable this flexibility. So, as one who has been privileged to serve the Museum under what will be regarded as the old order, I welcome this Bill and wish it safe passage through your Lordships' House.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill has grown considerably since it was first discussed. It is much larger now than was expected and, I personally feel, somewhat larger in its content than is absolutely necessary. The most necessary part of the Bill, the original part of the Bill for which the Trustees asked, is in Clause 9. As has been said, this arises from the two great Libraries, the Science Library and the British Museum Library itself. The Science Library will be on the South Bank, and books from the British Museum will be sent to form part of it. The new British Museum Library will be on the other side of the road in Bloomsbury, and virtually all the books and manuscripts from the present British Museum building will be transferred to it; but the Trustees are at present debarred from moving any of their books or manuscripts, and this clause in the Bill enables us to do so. It is in fact doing no more than legalising a transfer.

The related point of outhousing, to which I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was referring, is a quite different one. The books to be outhoused in special repositories will be kept there for only temporary periods, as the noble Earl said, and the shorter that period the better, because outhousing in itself is most undesirable. It is, however, necessary to do this during the period when the transfer takes place. Because it is undesirable and because it is only for a temporary period, I hope the noble Earl on the Front Bench will consider the possibility—which has been discussed—of limiting the time during which out-housing is legitimate. I would much rather—and I think many members of the Board would agree with this—that outhousing were a temporary expedient than something written into a Bill.

I think also that it is desirable that the space in which outhousing is possible should be limited. A suggestion was made that the Metropolitan Police area should be such a space. That, I am told, is an area, surprisingly enough, of more than 600 square miles, which surely should be large enough for the Ministry of Works to find suitable accommodation for outhousing these books. The reason for limiting the space is to ensure that students, or indeed members of the public, who may want these books can during the outhousing period obtain them with reasonable facility.

Another point, which is raised in Clause 4 of the Bill, is the question of loans. That has been discussed in your Lordships' House several times, and again and again the great dangers of sending great works of art by rail, by air or by ship have been displayed. The dangers are very real, but the Bill does its best to provide safeguards. Some of the safeguards, surely, are a little gratuitous to responsible bodies, such as we hope the new body of Trustees will be. No self-respecting body of trustees could allow a work of art whose "physical condition"—those are the words—was unsafe to travel. So some of the warnings in the Bill are, I think, gratuitous and unnecessary.

On the other hand, I notice that the word "rarity" is used, and I am very glad that not only the safety, not only the physical condition, but the rarity of any object should be taken into account. We have had during the last few weeks an example of this particular point being ignored, in the loan of the Mona Lisa to America. That is a loan which no self-respecting museum man in the world would have tolerated. It is quite clearly a loan made by the French Government in order to give pleasure to the American Government. It is that kind of thing which has never happened in the past in our museums in this country, and I hope that we shall be very much on our guard to prevent such pressure on any Board of Trustees to make that deplorable sort of position possible. Personally, so far as loans from the British Museum and elsewhere are concerned, I have always been much keener on lending to different parts of this country from the great metropolitan centres, than on lending abroad. But I am sure that the new Board will take all these things into account and will remember that this point, like so much else in the Bill, will depend for its success or failure on their own administration.

The next clause allows the Trustees to dispose of unfit objects. The original intention of this was to allow the Natural History Museum to dispose of objects which were verminous and which obviously were a menace to the other holdings in the Museum. I seem to remember that a few years ago we refused to allow the National Gallery to dispose of its pictures. We are doing the opposite in the case of the British Museum. But while we are doing the opposite in the case of the British Museum, I am quite sure that the Board will treat this with the greatest care. Mistakes have been made in the past in the disposal of objects.

Many, many years ago, before its power to dispose of pictures was rescinded the National Gallery disposed of pictures which it would welcome to-day very much indeed. The British Museum, many years ago, sold duplicate books, and my great-grandfather bought a book which was part of the library of Henry, Prince of Wales, with his famous binding, though it had been given to the British Museum by the King. That book, no doubt, was a duplicate; no doubt in the British Museum there is another copy of it. But the copy in the British Museum is not that historic book which belonged to Henry, Prince of Wales, and which had been given to the national by the King. These are points which I hope will be treated with great caution by the new Board.

I hope that they will be able to interpret better than I can what the word "unfit" means. I should have thought that it might enable them to set up as censors, to decide that this book is fit and that book unfit for the Museum. But I am equally certain that, though the wording of this Explanatory Memorandum seems to be very loose and meaningless, they will abide by the common sense of the position and not by the words of this Memorandum. The Memorandum instances, as objects unfit for retention, objects that have been "wrongly identified". But the fact that the object has been wrongly identified obviously makes no difference to its value. A mistaken identification does not alter the value or the interest; indeed, it may add to it. I hope that the Trustees will ignore that definition.

I hope that they will also ignore the suggestion (and this is not in the Bill; it is only in the Memorandum) that what is unfit for retention should include forgeries. Forgeries have to be bought deliberately by the British Museum, to show with the originals, in order to indicate the standard of what is right and what is wrong. Forgeries form an enormously important part. Admittedly, the British Museum in its 200 and more years has unknowingly bought a considerable number of forgeries. My generation was brought up to believe that Julius Caesar looked like that bust which appeared in all the books as being a Roman contemporary portrait in the British Museum but which is now accepted as being an eighteenth century English marble. Even so it has its interest, and the importance of forgeries can hardly be overestimated. But, again, as with this equally vague Bill, what matters is how those things are administered, rather than the actual words of the Memorandum.

Those are minor points compared with the questions of principle which are raised by the changes to be made in the constitution. The first point is the separation of the two sides of the British Museum. That separation is not being effected on the suggestion of the Trustees. Indeed, a number of the Trustees have expressed their regret that it should take place, because the connection between the two is valued by them and valued by the staff, and it shows that there is considerable common ground between the two. The suggestion was made by my noble friend Lord Dundee that some system of overlapping of Trustees between the two Museums might be effected, and I believe that that would be very desirable. I most certainly hope that on the Bloomsbury side, with which I am much more closely connected—because, naturally, perhaps, the Trustees' committees veer to one side more than the other—there will be an ample representation of scientists, who today are of such great value to the Board.

More important still is the complete change in the Board. I had not realised, until the noble Earl told me, that I was the senior elected Trustee. Somehow we do not look upon seniority as something that exists on the Board, and that fact means only that I have been a Trustee longer than anybody else, which is something I prefer to hide rather than to boast of.


My noble friend was elected when he was quite young.


I accept the compliment. My father was elected when he was quite young; his father was elected when he was quite young; but I found only the other day letters both from Mr. Gladstone and from Lord Beaconsfield pressing my great-grandfather to accept election to the Board when he thought he was too old. So we have been connected, one way or the other, for quite a time—much too long, perhaps—and I suppose that, under the new régime, this is one's valedictory.

I should like to make one point arising out of what was said by the noble Earl in introducing the Bill. He said, quite rightly, that there were 51 Trustees, and he told us who they were. He said, again quite rightly, that the number of Trustees is going to be reduced to 25. That, of course, is quite true; but if he will forgive my saying so, it is a little misleading, because the main body of Trustees—the ex officio members, the family Trustees, and so on—is not the body which in fact runs the Museum. What it does is to elect 15 Trustees who form the Standing Committee, the body responsible for the management of the Museum. In practice, that number of 15 will rise under this Bill to 25. That is probably right, because the members of the Standing Committee have a great number of sub-committees which they have to attend, and I think their duties will be better performed if there are 25 of them rather than the present number. Speaking as senior elected Trustee, may I say how grateful we are to the Archbishop and his three predecessors, under whom I have sat, for the very great value of the services they have given to the Museum; how sorry we are that the regular system should be changed; and how glad we are to hear what has been discussed on this point with the Prime Minister?

Now it is easy to say that this system of election by people who are not particularly interested in the Museum but who hold high offices of State, or those who have family connections or con- nections with the law, or who hold the position of Speaker of the House of Commons, is archaic, but it would be wrong to think that this system is in any way foolish. One can judge only by whether the system works well or not; and I can say, without the smallest hesitation, that the Board of the British Museum is incomparably the best Board of any of the many other national institutions of the same sort on which I have served for perhaps too many years. It works extremely well, and this system has created the greatest museum in the world. The system, with all its apparent anomalies, shows that the Museum was intended to be, as indeed it is, in a unique position in the country, and the result is that it has an independence and an authority that I think can scarcely be claimed by any of the other Boards. It is better able to stand up to pressure when pressure exists (as it does from the Treasury, from the Foreign Office and from Prime Ministers) than any of the other Boards. I may be alone in regretting the passing of this system; I may be old-fashioned in thinking that, because a thing works well, however absurd it may appear to be on paper does not really matter: but I feel it is a pity and that perhaps the onus of saying why this change should be made should be placed on the Government.

I do not think I am alone in regretting the passing of the family Trustees. At any rate, they have expressed their regret that they should be wiped out. To-day they are representatives of the great families of the past which either gave or sold at ridiculously low prices those wonderful collections which have made the Museum the greatest in the world. A noble Lord asks, "Is it the greatest in the world?" I have no doubt whatever that it is—no doubt at all. There is no comparable museum. This museum contains the greatest Library in the world, the greatest collection of old master drawings, the greatest collection of Greek sculpture, the greatest collection of Assyrian sculpture, the greatest collection of coins—one could go on interminably. It is one of those things in which everyone in this country should feel the greatest possible pride—that the British Museum is the British Museum; and we owe it very largely to these private families.

More than 200 years ago the Duchess of Portland wrote to Speaker Onslow about the great Harley collection which she was selling at a bargain price: Though I am told the expense of collecting them was immense, and that if they were dispersed they would probably sell for a great deal of money, yet, as a sum has been named, and as I know it was my father's and is my mother's intention that they should be kept together, I will not bargain with the public, but I hope that you will do me the justice to believe that I did not consider this as a sale for an adequate price. That is characteristic of all these great gifts: "I will not bargain with the public. You, the Treasury, are 'doing me down'; I know that; but, in spite of the fact that you are 'doing me down', I am going to do what I know to be right".

That applies to the other family Trustees as well. It applies, perhaps, more than to any other, to the case of Lord Elgin. The seventh Lord Elgin, seeing that the great monuments of Athens were being destroyed, set out on an expedition which the Government refused to back, to record and to take casts of these great sculptures from the Parthenon, and to do nothing more. The cost of that experimental work was twice the annual income of his family. Having spent that, he found that these famous sculptures from the Parthenon were being destroyed, were being ground down into mortar, and that the only way of saving them was not to record or take casts of them but actually to remove them. The operation cost ten times the annual income of his family, and he was paid a mere fraction of this by the Government. He and two successive generations were so much oppressed by debt as a result of this that the family was barely able to survive. But both the Duchess of Portland and Lord Elgin, and the other Trustees and benefactors, asked one thing in exchange for this: that the names of their descendants in perpetuity should be on the Board of the British Museum. I think that to break this bargain is shabby and I cannot help hoping that those who are responsible for the matter feel a little ashamed. I hope, at any rate, that something may be done; although a sort of arrangement with the new Board on the lines mentioned is less satisfactory than if something were written into the Bill. But if nothing can be done, I am sure that everyone would wish to express to those families the nation's gratitude for what their families have done. The new system wipes out all these old-fashioned things and places the appointment of Trustees, fifteen of them, in the hands of the Prime Minister. That is accepted and is, I think, considered right. At the same time, it means losing a measure of authority, a measure of independence, and placing on the Prime Minister a very heavy responsibility.

The Board to-day does not consist of "Yes-men". It will be the Prime Minister's responsibility to ensure that he does not appoint "Yes-men". It consists to-day of people who are prepared to disagree with him, with the Treasury and with any official pressure that is put on us. The Prime Minister must see to it that he appoints men who are equally resistant to pressure; he must see to it that he does not appoint the narrow ring of people who may at any one moment happen to be fashionable whether in intellectual circles or even on television. That is a real temptation. He must see to it that politics are kept out; that no political appointments are made—as they have not been made in the case of the British Museum, and as they have been made on other boards.

No one is going to tell me that when Mr. Baldwin (as he then was) appointed Mr. Ramsay Macdonald a Trustee of the National Gallery a hint of vicarious and inverted politics was not involved. No one will persuade me that Mr. Baldwin really believed that, in the whole country, the man who would ensure that the National Gallery went on and on and up and up was Mr. Ramsay Macdonald; nor am I persuaded there was a similar belief when, two years later—such are the vagaries of politics—Mr. Ramsey Macdonald appointed Mr. Baldwin a member of the board of the National Gallery. I am inclined to accept as nonsense the view that politics had not any rate something to do with these appointments.

These are things of which the British Museum has been entirely free; and I hope will remain so under the new regime. In the appointments there must be no element of reward; there must be no element of compensation. Appointment to the Board of the British Museum must not be a sort of failed Life Peerage; and, believe me, these things are all possible. I hope, too, that in making his appointments the Prime Minister will consult whoever may be chosen as the chairman of the British Museum's Board. It always was the practice in the old days for the chairmen of these great boards, these national institutions, to see the Prime Minister personally about the appointment of trustees. That was a very great principle; and it was very good for the Prime Minister to be able to learn something about these great institutions. That habit has fallen out—I do not say in the British Museum, because it is not involved, but in other museums. I hope that in the British Museum it will be followed.

This is not a debate on the British Museum and therefore many things one would like to say cannot be said. But as one of those who are to be "abolished", I should like to say—I look upon the fact that I have been elected to play some part in the Bloomsbury side of the British Museum as the greatest possible honour anyone could have. I would also—and in saying this I know I am speaking for all the Trustees—record the very great admiration we have for the staff. The staff is worthy of the Museum. I would also say that, while there is much too much criticism of the Museum, nine-tenths of that criticism relates to the fact that public money is not provided in sufficient quantity for us to do the work as it should be done and as otherwise it would be done. In expressing one's good wishes to the new Board one would express also the hope that they might meet with a less parsimonious Treasury.

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, it is with some diffidence that I follow two Trustees of the museum—the first principal and the senior elected—and I believe I am to be followed by my noble friend Lord Hurcomb, another Trustee. I must confess that I see this problem from another angle. I do not look upon it through what I think are the rather rosy spectacles which the Trustees are wearing, and indeed I am a little nervous that I may raise a rather discordant note. I see the problem from quite another angle, that of a man with a practical, if amateur, interest in taxonomy and systematics, research into which is the primary function of one of the branches of the Museum. For upward of 35 years I have collected for the Museum in a number of countries abroad, and at intervals I have had the privilege of working there in the research departments, where I have seen the admirable work done by the scientific staff in what is still the most important scientific research institute of its kind in the world.

I recommend the separation between the Museum at Bloomsbury and the Museum at South Kensington, although it is true, as I think the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, said, that the two Museums overlap, particularly perhaps in the fields of paleontology, anthropology and ethnology; the remains of primitive man and his predecessors are studied in one museum; In the other they study the tools he made. They also overlap in the techniques used in the shape of radio-carbon dating and pollen analysis. But, in fact, the connection between the two institutions is exceedingly tenuous and if they had always been separate institutions nobody in his senses would think of bringing them together any more than one would join them to the Geological Survey because pollen analysis is used by prospectors for oil. If it had not been for the fact that Sir Hans Sloane was as catholic a collector of books and manuscripts as he was of natural history specimens, the two might well have grown up as separate institutions. Be that as it may, I do not know any active biologist, whether professional or amateur, who does not look upon the setting up of two bodies of Trustees as being long overdue.

If your Lordships will look at Dr. Johnson's Dictionary you will see that he defines a museum as a Repository for learned Curiosities", and I have heard some of my friends with a similar outlook describe the exhibits collected at the Natural History Museum in some such terms as "a dead zoo". In a way, that is not an unfair description of the exhibition galleries as they were when I was a boy, but they are about one-tenth of the Museum as a whole. Ninety per cent. of the work is done behind the exhibition galleries, which are the shop windows of the natural sciences. So far as research is concerned, the Bill which we are going to pass to-day means nothing at all unless there is a drastic change in the outlook of the Government on the constitution of the Trustees and on the amount of money allocated for research. For the truth is that this, the greatest research institution of its kind in the world, has been grossly neglected—I say that deliberately—by successive Governments for the past generation. There, as in any other research institution. a good deal of pure science is pursued, but most of the work done there is applied science, because upon it is based the whole of the biological sciences which are followed elsewhere and much applied science for the benefit of mankind in general.

It is there, for instance, that the vectors of the many diseases which affect mankind, particularly in tropical countries, are studied. This not only demands much material on which to work, but also means that the workers concerned should be able to study the creatures under natural conditions, the insects which transmit scrub typhus or malaria, the animals which carry plague or sleeping sickness and the birds which carry Japanese encephalitis. The same is true of palæontology, where a knowledge of the fossils which are found in the various strata traversed in the search for oil, coal and the like is essential, and where, too, it is important that the men concerned should be able to see and investigate things in situ and not be confined to the laboratory. That involves much work in the field, as well as ample facilities and staffs in the laboratories. All that costs money, and successive Governments have failed to provide money enough for this research. Indeed, that has been fairly true from the very beginning of the Museum at Bloomsbury, and during the early years at South Kensington, as the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, said. In the early years of this century, such men as the late Duke of Bedford and Lord Rothschild sent expeditions all over the world to collect material for the Museum and other people were doing it in a smaller way.

I think it is instructive to see what provision has been made for research over the past few years. In 1931—and I choose that year particularly because it happens that I was engaged in Central Asia throughout the whole of that year on behalf of the Museum and because there were still people with sufficient money to be able to do that sort of work—the amount allocated for the acquisition of books for the Library and material for collections (and that included the necessary travel abroad by the scientists concerned) was £8,000. In 1961, after 30 years of inflation, which have seen the disappearance of the rich and moderately rich patron, the amount allocated for the same purposes—your Lordships will hardly believe this—was still £8,000. It is true that the last few years have seen an increase and I am grateful to Her Majesty's Government for that small encouragement. But £8,000 was pitiful in 1931. Five times that amount would be ridiculous to-day.

I know that science is international and provided that somebody in some country does the work humanity in general gains. but I must confess to having had some insular shame when, on a recent journey to South-East Asia, I found the zoological department of a Commonwealth university collecting for an American museum material which our Museum sadly needs and would much like to have but cannot, because we have not the money to pay for it. And I hear constantly of other Commonwealth universities, Commonwealth museums and research institutes doing the same thing.

I turn to Africa and find exactly the same story. Hundreds, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of animals have been killed in tsetse fly campaigns, many of them for no reason, because it has been discovered that some carried disease and others did not. None of this material came to the Museum, because there was not money enough to pay for it. To-day, Africa is full of Fulbright scholars and other workers from American research institutions, taking advantages of opportunities which we neglect. There is an enormous amount of work to be done on the rôle of smaller animals as vectors of trypanosomes and on their systematics, ecology and the like, with which the staff of the Museum should be directly involved. We should be in this sort of job up to the neck in Commonwealth countries. But it all costs money, which so far Governments have failed to supply.

As I have said, in both Museums much has been supplied by private benefactors. The Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries, in its recent Report, has once more drawn our attention to the income tax laws in this country, which allow American museums to flourish and ours to decay. I hope that the noble Lord, when he replies, will be able to say that the Government will look into that once again, since the Standing Commission has recommended this to them no fewer than three times running.

Now, as to the constitution of the Trustees. When the Museum was first started, the Trustees were the same kind of pillars of the establishment as they are to-day. I hope that noble Lords who are Trustees will forgive me if I say that they are not in the same category as were their predecessors. At that time, the Trustees were scholars in the widest sense, because it could be expected that men of culture would be as closely in touch with scientific thought as they would be with literature and the arts. Regrettably, that is no longer possible. It is difficult even for the professional scientist to be fully aware of developments in his own field. Fifty years ago a scientist could anticipate perhaps one major breakthrough in his speciality in his lifetime, and could adjust himself and all he had learned as an undergraduate to those new ideas. To-day that sort of breakthrough comes at ever shorter intervals, and it is almost impossible for anybody to adjust himself, save on an increasingly narrower front. The effect of that is that the contribution which even the most gifted layman or scientist who is not actively engaged in his profession and research can make as a Trustee has become less and less as advances in scientific knowledge follow each other in increasingly rapid succession. As I have said, having two new bodies of Trustees will be a step in the right direction, but I do not think it will be worth taking until we have a radical change in the composition of the Trustees as well.

We have here an important research institution. The composition of the Trustees should approximate to that of such other bodies responsible for research as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the Medical Research Council, the Agricultural Research Council or the Council of the Zoological Society. A large proportion—at least 50 per cent. I think—should be men actively engaged upon research (in this case, of course, biologists and not physicists), and some, at least, should be younger men fully in touch with modern science. This affects not only the research side, but also the exhibition galleries. These should be the shop window of the natural sciences and places where the general public can learn something of all the research going on in those fields.

In the 18th and 19th century this was mainly the classification of the new animals, plants, fossils and the like which were being discovered as the world was opening out to Europeans. A Johnsonian outlook on the museum, a "Repository for Curiosities", was not unreasonable, since the main function of everybody engaged in the natural sciences then was the classification of those curiosities, and the Trustees themselves could be expected fully to understand what was being done and, indeed, perhaps take some part actively as individuals. In most fields those early workers were content with the minimum of material and the simplest of techniques. In those days, indeed, it was often said with some justification that taxonomy was almost as much an art as a science. But to-day much more is involved—more material, other scientific disciplines, new techniques and complicated machinery, biophysics, cytology, chromatography, computers and the like—which none of us who is not a professional scientist can really understand.

The exhibition galleries are not only a dead zoo, and concerned not only with taxonomy and systematics but with the whole range of biological sciences to which that study leads and the basic advances which influence every branch of those sciences. There are some admirable displays of these things in these galleries already, and I have no doubt that there would be more if more money were available. But it is really important that there should be on the governing body men who are actively engaged in work of that nature.

All these changes demand more space, more laboratories and the apparatus that goes with them, and all this must be provided if the Museum is going to maintain its reputation and is to attract young scientists to work there. We have heard much recently of the emigration of scientists; and some people look upon that as a loss of talent. For myself, I welcome it, because I feel that the more scientists move between one country and another the more science in general gains, quite apart from the intellectual advantages to the individual concerned. I am certainly glad that one of my sons is working in a Commonwealth university. The Museum has for long had the tradition of being a training ground for men to take responsible positions in comparable institutions abroad. But it ought to be attracting young men to this country.

I have already told your Lordships how I have seen a close liaison being built up by universities and the like abroad with American museums. We ought to have research grants available, not only to pay for the living expenses of people coming to work here from abroad, but an expatriate allowance for their wives and families, and travelling expenses as well. So far as this country is concerned, the Zuckerman Report on the Management and Control of Research and Development drew attention to the necessity of movement between Government research institutions and universities. At present, a certain number of graduate students work in the Museum, which is admirable, but we want to reach the ideal when a job at the Museum should be a not unusual rung on the academic ladder leading to the higher posts; and until we can reach that sort of position, I cannot see how the Museum can prosper.

We have now reached the position that unless the Government start, and start quickly, to make amends for the long years of neglect, the facilities for research provided at the Museum will not be up to modern standards and the reputation of the Museum will start to sink in the eyes of the scientific world. That, I am conscious, is a serious statement for one who is not a scientist to make, but I make it after discussing the Bill with a number of professional biologists, not working in the Museum, who confirm my impression. If we pass this Bill we shall be taking a step in the right direction which I welcome, but it must be followed by a complete change in the attitude of Her Majesty's Government both to the composition of Trustees and to the amount of money allocated for research.

In conclusion, I would apologise to your Lordships for having digressed rather on to the scientific side, although perhaps my noble friend Lord Crawford will sympathise with me, he having digressed on to the side of the humanities. The Museum, as it has been, has been concerned with both in the past. I do not believe that the separation will lead to any divorce between the two in any individual—which is all that matters, and not the administrative machine. I welcome this Bill, and I hope your Lordships will pass it.

4.19 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, welcome this Bill, with one or two reservations which I shall come to later. I should like to say at the outset what a pleasure it is to follow the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and how much I agree with him in what he says about the composition of the Trustees. I believe that the Prime Minister's list is far too long—it numbers 15—and that there should be far more representation of the learned societies, as I think the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, said.

At the moment there are only four, and I should have thought that, with a museum of the scope and importance of the British Museum, this number should be increased. There should be far more university representation, for instance. As the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, said, we are now in modern times, and perhaps what was suitable for the last century has had to change, although I am afraid that I cannot regret the changes quite so much as he does. I should have thought also that it was important to appoint some ladies as Trustees. Ladies have not had representation in the field of museums and galleries on anything like the scale they have in other spheres of life. The National Gallery now has a lady as Trustee—and a very distinguished lady, too but, of course, she is far outnumbered by the men. Therefore, I hope that these Trustees, whoever they are, will include some ladies.

I also hope that rather more imagination will be shown in the appointment of the Trustees, and that people will not be appointed merely because they are distinguished in other walks of life. After all, the British Museum is a great museum; it is not a bank or an insurance company. I hope that the type of Trustee who will be appointed, quite apart from the university representatives, will be someone like the Commissioner of Police. That seems to me most important from the security point of view. We know the situation of the National Gallery when the Goya was stolen, and what a lamentable state of affairs was disclosed. As a result, the Government appointed a security officer. But, in addition to that, I think it is important to have a Trustee who has some professional knowledge of security. I would suggest to Her Majesty's Government that that is the kind of Trustee who should be appointed, in addition to the others.

I now turn to Clause 5, the disposal of objects—and on this matter I share the concern of the noble Earl, Lord Crawford. I hope that this clause will be treated with the utmost caution by the Trustees. I am concerned about the date of 1850 for printed matter, when one considers the wealth of extraordinarily important literature which has been written since that date in all languages, one hopes that the Trustees will not dispose of early material or first editions because they are thought to be duplicates, when it may appear in later years, as a result of further research, that they are not duplicates at all, but that in some way the text is different.

There is also the question of counterfeit material. Of course, this is not actually mentioned in the Bill, although the Explanatory Memorandum refers to objects found to be forgeries or wrongly identified. Of course, fakes and counterfeits have a great importance, as was pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Crawford. Indeed, I remember that two or three years ago the British Museum itself put on an extremely interesting and entertaining exhibition of these fakes and counterfeits. I believe that the Courtauld Institute has a fake Italian primitive which is used for demonstrating to students the detection of forgeries. I hope that the Trustees will consider carefully before they get rid of anything which could be described as a fake. In my view the wording should be carefully considered by the Government, and possibly amended at the Committee stage.

I should have thought that it was important to keep things not only for demonstration purposes. There are other objects which have never been anything but fakes, yet which are of extreme interest. One remembers the Little Mermaid, which was exhibited in that exhibition to which I have referred. One hopes that the Trustees will never dispose of her, although she has been found by X-ray machines to be a fake. One hopes that they will not get rid of any of the spurious first editions of that notorious forger, the late Thomas Wise, whose nefarious activities are a field of study in themselves.

Clause 8 gives power to transfer items from the British Museum to other institutions, but there does not seem to be any provision for transfers to the Museum itself. I should have thought that this Bill should provide an opportunity for transfers of this kind. I have in mind particularly the Dyce and Forster collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum Library. The Forster collection itself, as your Lordships are no doubt aware, includes Caroline and Jacobite printed material, many Dickens manuscripts, and also proof copies of a considerable number of his books. The Victoria and Albert Museum is a superb Library, devoted to the Arts, but I should have thought that material of this kind would be far better placed in the main in the British Museum Library itself, where it can be seen by students of this literature alongside the main corpus. This is in no way a criticism of the Victoria and Albert Museum, which, as I say, is one of the finest Art Libraries in the world. It also has a delightful and efficient staff, and is one of the most pleasant libraries I know anywhere. But I do not think that these two particular collections have a place there, and consideration should be given to transferring them to the British Museam. If that is not possible under this Bill, I should have thought that they could be moved and left in the British Museum on permanent loan.

Now I should like to turn briefly to the general situation of the British Museum, because I think it is important, in view of criticisms that have been made outside this House, both in another place and in the Press, about the display methods. I believe that most of these criticisms are unfair. In my view, the display at the British Museum, particularly in recent years, since they have had more money, is beyond praise. It is restrained and sympathetic; it does not intrude between the object and its spectator, and it compares favourably with most other museums that I know. I may say that in my view some of the displays in other museums tend to be over-dramatic, slightly precious and sometimes rather vulgar. This can never be said in the case of the British Museum. I think the display of the Elgin Marbles could not be bettered. The same can be said of the King Edward VII Gallery and, indeed, of the exhibition of most of these smaller objects on the first floor, particularly the Egyptian Rooms.

My Lords, I have two small criticisms, which I do not make in any carping spirit but in an attempt, I hope, to be constructive. Cannot something be done about the opening and closing hours of the Museum itself? Why does it have to close at five o'clock every evening, when other galleries and museums in London are open until six? It might be argued that for security reasons, because of the great number of objects, it is necessary for it to close at five. But the same problem arises at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is open until six. There is also the question of the Library hours. Since July, 1960, the Library has been open until nine p.m., but only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Is this due to lack of finance, or to other reasons? I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, when he replies will tell us whether it will be possible to extend the opening hours on more evenings a week than two.

I remember that when I once visited Moscow I was gratified to find that the great Lenin Library is open every night of the week until quite a late hour; yet the British Museum Library, which the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, described as the greatest in the world, is open on only two evenings a week. It seems to me that that is a point which should receive the urgent consideration of the Government; because, in these days, many people who wish to do research and to read in the Library are fully occupied during the day time in earning their living, and it is most unfair to deprive them of the facilities of the Library except on two evenings a week.

The other point I wish to make is that, while I have the highest admiration for the administration of the Museum and for its display, I wish sometimes that it would show a little more enterprise and do a little more for literature; as much for literature as it does for the arts. I have in mind special book exhibitions to celebrate centenaries, and so on, of our leading authors. I realise that this is probably not a practical proposition, so far as the King's Library is concerned, but I hope that in the new Library building consideration will be given to having a proper exhibition room of that kind.

I know that there are famous books displayed in the King's Library. This, of course, is an admirable exhibition of its kind, although I wish that they would change round rather more often. I think that the first folio Shakespeare, the Kilmarnock Burns, and the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in the Strand Magazine—which the noble Earl, Lord Dundee mentioned earlier in the debate—have now been on view, together with others, for some while, and one hopes that they will be changed.

What is now done is all right so far as it goes, but I wish that the British Museum Library would do something on the lines adopted by the Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris. Every year they put on the most magnificent exhibitions of their leading authors. These exhibitions consist, in the main, of material lent by the French National Library but augmented by other public libraries in France, and also by loans from private collectors. The exhibitions are not only of books and manuscripts but of illustrations of people and places connected with the author. They are always accompanied by admirable catalogues, properly printed catalogues, which are works of reference in themselves. They are rather on the lines of what the Arts Council do for picture exhibitions. They quickly go out of print so I do not think that the authorities at the Bibliothéque Nationale lose very much money on them.

I hope that we shall see that kind of thing taking place in London to celebrate our own centenaries. Next year, for example, is the fourth centenary of Shakespeare's birth. I hope that we shall be given something rather more ambitious than a few early folios in the King's Library with, at best, a typewritten and duplicated hand-list. I think that over the Border they are showing rather more enterprise. For example, I understand that this summer the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh are to show treasures from the Belgian Libraries, which will be a reciprocal exhibition to an exhibition that took place earlier this year, at the Bibliothéque Albert Premier in Brussels, of treasures of Scottish libraries. It seems to me an admirable example of Scottish enterprise, and I feel sure that the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, will agree that it would be an excellent thing if such enterprise spread South of the Border.

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to speak for only a few minutes as most of the things which I thought were pretty necessary to say I am glad have already been said. I have read the Bill with much interest and I should like to support it. In fact, I think it is really long overdue. I consider that the Natural History Museum should be separated from the British Museum at Bloomsbury, as it clearly needs quite different Directors and Trustees from the Bloomsbury institution.

I was very glad that the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, mentioned the wonderful treasures of the British Museum, because I am sure that many people simply think that there are only books there and do not realise the vast collection of almost every conceivable thing, which is quite unrivalled internationally.

The appointment of the Trustees is a subject that certainly raised some doubts in my mind and I think that the choosing of fifteen by the Prime Minister is probably a very good arrangement, although it is a little difficult to know quite what it means. I strongly feel that it is not really at all desirable that people should be given the appointment as a semi-political personal gift, as the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, mentioned has happened in the past in the case of the National Gallery. They ought to be selected for their personal qualifications.

Of recent years many national works of art have left the country, in spite of the great work done by the National Arts Collection Fund. That work has been clearly shown in the case of the Leonardo Cartoon and of the very generous gift of Sir Isaac Wolfson in attempting to save Goya's Wellington in that very deplorable story. I do not know whether your Lordships realise that in America a man can use up to a total of 20 per cent. of his gross income for charity, and a gift of a work of art to an approved museum is considered a charity; also that a corporation—or, in English words, a company—can use up to 5 per cent., which is allowable in tax, for that purpose. There are also various other provisions in the tax law of America, which of course makes it very much easier for America to acquire works of art on the international market. The result has been that when a manuscript like Alice in Wonderland, which, as your Lordships may remember, was put up for auction in the 1920s, the British Museum are the underbidders. About twenty, years later the American who became the owner of that manuscript died, and a group of Americans purchased it and very generously presented it to the British Museum, and that is the reason why we possess it to-day.

I note that Clause 5 gives power to dispose of duplicates, a matter which has already been mentioned by two or three noble Lords. I would put in a plea for their rentention or, at least, that their disposal should be very carefully considered. One has seen exhibitions of forgeries in various places. The one before the war at the Burlington Fine Arts Club was a good one. I think there should be a room in the British Museum, suitably placed in the Museum, where such objects would be shown. They are a great education to any connoisseur. I feel we ought to be able to learn by the experiences of experts who may have slipped up.

I hope the Trustees will certainly watch all their opportunities for acquiring works of art while it is still possible to buy them. They are being "mopped up" all the time. As your Lordships may know, Mr. Mellon is opening a large gallery of English pictures in America at the end of this month, which is really a great compliment to British painting, but I feel it will show up the limitations of what we possess in this country. Would it not be possible for the Treasury to earmark, say, 1 per cent. of their receipts from death duties and use the money to preserve our national heritage, rather than dissipate it? I can only add that I wish every success to the Bill, and, whilst appreciating the many benefactors that have largely created the institution, I hope we may one day have a huge benefactor who will help to solve the problems.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, before I make the few remarks I wish to make about this Bill, I would associate myself with what the most reverend Primate said about the staff of the Library, and the Manuscript Room of the British Museum. I have done a good deal of work there myself and have found them extremely kind, courteous and helpful. They have gone out of their way to help me in everything I have wanted to do.

This is a Bill which I think we can welcome. It appears to be putting right a number of things that needed to be put right. When I first read the Bill I was pleased to find the number of Trustees was to be reduced. I remember that when my father became a Secretary of State one of the things that surprised him was that he became a Trustee of the British Museum. I am very pleased to know from the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, that the 51 Trustees did not run the Museum; they delegated their work to a sub-committee of 15 members. It is extremely important that great care should be taken in the choice of the new Trustees. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, who says they must not be just political figures; they must not be "Yes-men"; they have to be persons of firm judgment, determination and character.

One of the things we can say about the British Museum Trustees is that they have never been subjected to the considerable criticism to which some of the trustees of our other galleries have been subjected. It is a matter on which I have no expert knowledge, but I have been worried about what I have read in the papers and have heard, too, of criticisms of the purchases in some of our big picture galleries, and at the same time criticisms of their failure to purchase certain pictures at the appropriate time. That is criticism I have never heard levelled at the British Museum; and therefore I trust the change in Trustees will not mean that we shall get people who will behave in a way which makes them subject to what appears to me to be quite expert criticism by people who know far more about paintings than I pretend to know myself.

I think it is probably all right now, but I was worried at the time when the painting by Goya was stolen from the National Gallery. A full report came out, which I think showed clearly that there had been some lack of liaison between the Ministry of Works and the Board of Trustees. That is why I would support what the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said: that there should be somebody who knows something about museum security among the people appointed as Trustees.

I wanted to make just those two points: first, that very great care should be taken in the choice of the Trustees, so that we do not get involved in what one might call wrangles between experts, which members of the public who enjoy going to museums get rather worried about. They see large sums of money spent on objects which are heavily criticised by those who seem to know what they are talking about. There is one other point—I do not think it applies to the British Museum, but it might. There has been a great deal of criticism, too, about the way in which the pictures in the National Gallery have been cleaned. I trust that when we get the new Board of Trustees at the British Museum there will not be the same ground for criticism, or, supposing it does occur, that some body will be set up to which this criticism can be referred and which can make some kind of official pronouncement from their knowledge of what is going on. The criticisms one has read lead to a certain amount of worry among members of the public, and one would like to see such a body as the British Museum Trustees established who would be so sensible that their actions would not lead to criticisms of the sort to which I have referred.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, it looks to me as if the Government are going to have an easier passage on this Bill in your Lordships' House than I had thought.




The noble Earl must realise that the subject of the British Museum is one on which feelings have been strong from a number of directions for quite a long while, and we had a slight taste of it from the noble Earl, Lord Crawford. But before I come to the few contentious parts of my speech, I think it is right to say that as this Bill proceeds towards the Statute Book we are exceedingly grateful to those people who in the past were responsible for creating the British Museum; and although I am convinced that the Government are absolutely right, in this day and age, to create a new type of Trustee body, obviously we all feel a slight nostalgia at the disappearance of such institutions as the family Trustees.

It was most gratifying that the most reverend Primate—who, I understand, is the Chairman of the Trustees—should, so to speak, have blessed this Bill to-day. He did not give it much more than a blessing; he did not tell us of the discussions that went on among the Trustees on this subject.


It was a general benediction.


Certainly. He told us that the Natural History Museum will be glad of its division. He did not indicate, of course, that the Trustees seemed to have taken rather an equivocal view. Since they are on record in another place, they may as well be on record in this House: they expressed the hope that their views on the proposed separation of the British Museum might be placed on record when the Bill was debated in Parliament, and that it should be stated that it was not at the wish of the Trustees that the total separation of the two Museums should take place.

In the discussions in another place strong feelings were voiced on this subject. But I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, that it is right that this separation should take place. I agree not because, according to my information, the officials of the Natural History Museum feel so strongly on the subject—they have grown accustomed to working along quite merrily in the present circumstances—but for the reason given by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook: that in fact there is a need for a much more dynamic approach. I hope that independent Trustees will be more effective at arguing with the Government than the previous Trustees have been. Grateful as we are to the Trustees, the tale which the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, unfolded certainly reflects on the Government—and, indeed, on past Governments; and this is particularly so in regard to the Natural History Museum. But it might even be held, as the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, said, to reflect on the pillars of the Establishment who have, in fact, been the Trustees in previous years.

I should like briefly to turn to the subject of the appointment of Trustees. Although we can discuss at length the various ways in which these Trustees should be appointed—and I have my own ideas on this—I do not object to the Prime Minister's having the power of appointment, and I should like to rebut the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, that Prime Ministers automatically appoint political friends.


Really! The noble Lord did not see that I was here.


The noble Earl has changed his place three times already.


I said nothing of the sort.


Well, the noble Earl has changed his position three times. I saw him move his place, but I had not realised that he had completed the circuit. I am sorry: I may have misinterpreted him. But he certainly implied that there was a liability that politicians would be appointed, and he gave an example of a sort of back-scratching operation.

I should not have thought that it was a bad thing for Mr. Baldwin to be a Trustee of the National Gallery. I do not think it is necessarily even a bad thing to have a politician on other bodies. I serve on a number of bodies, on some of which I serve by my own right and not as a politician. On occasion I am startled at the ignorance of my colleagues in regard to the working of public affairs. It is easy just to blame the Treasury. This is the great cry: this is the great alibi we all have. We are probably right to blame the Treasury anyway, but some of it reflects our own ignorance as to how to go about things. But I should hope that the Prime Minister of any Party, confronted by pressure groups and vested interests, of which there are many in the scientific and artistic world, would make the best choice and would, in fact, give us the sort of Trustees who are needed. I hope that he will consult; it is inconceivable that he will not consult. So on this particular matter, as of now, I am in support of the Government in giving this power to the Prime Minister, who I think is probably in a better position, with better advisers, to discharge this particular responsibility.

The noble Earl, Lord Crawford, to whom, along with the other Trustees, we owe a great debt of gratitude, said one thing which I thought led to some feeling of surprise—indeed, slightly shocked surprise—in regard to the loan, or the visit, of the Mona Lisa to the United States. On this, I should like to say that I am wholly with him. It is intolerable that works of art which are so exposed to danger in transit, and of which there have been many tragic examples of damage, should be used for this sort of purpose. It is certainly a matter on which the opinions of those best able to judge must be decisive. Indeed, in another place certain of my honourable friends tried to write into the Bill the obligation that the Keeper of the Museum had to give his permission: they were not even inclined to trust the Trustees. Perhaps they were feeling some of the political influence which might come about as the result of this Bill. But I think this is a matter on which we can trust the Trustees. Although it raises difficult issues, and although it is obviously desirable that there shall be the maximum amount of exchange and of loan exhibitions, I do not think the public ought to treat these things as lightly as they do, or should forget the risks that are associated with them.

I had intended to intervene only briefly in this debate on the subject of the Natural History Museum and the National Science Library, but my noble friend Baroness Wootton of Abinger is, unfortunately, ill and unable to be here, and in a sense I am standing in for her. I should like to make a few remarks on the Natural History Museum. I was particularly grateful for the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and the noble Lord, Lord Rockley, also, because the extraordinary importance of the institution is not widely enough appreciated. To naturalists the "B.M." does not mean Bloomsbury, it means South Kensington. The "B.M." is a place where naturalists and explorers send their collections. I am afraid that many of them remain for many years in the cellars of the Museum. But ultimately the important and the really essential part of any research is done there; and it is because it enjoys this enormous reputation as almost the international centre, or certainly the Commonwealth Centre, of taxonomy that it is of such importance. It is, I think, a pity that so much of the discussions on this Bill have been not in terms of the scientific side of the British Museum as an institution.

There are a number of aspects of the Natural History Museum to which I should like to refer. As the noble Earl said, it is primarily a biological research institution. It needs more space; there is a need for more building; and there are certain proposals which ought to be put in hand now. I would ask whether the Government have any views on this matter or whether they are going to leave it to the Trustees. Is somebody bringing pressure on the Treasury in regard to new buildings for the North Block and the extent to which work is now, as one hopes, about to be put in hand, or which may now be going on? This is quite fundamental to the whole of our scientific advance, and there is still not enough realisation of the importance of the Natural History Museum, and of biology generally, to technological advance. It is still thought of by too many people as a place where one can see interesting exhibits of dinosaurs and butterflies, and they are not aware of its real significance in the technological progress of this country.

I should like to turn briefly to the thoughtful speech of my noble friend Lord Strabolgi. I do not propose to join in the controversies on the subject of the 'disposal or lending of exhibits or materials from the Museum. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, had some wise and helpful remarks to make. There will be the problem of trying to decide what is meant by "fit", but I do not doubt that the Trustees, whoever they may be, will arrive at a sensible solution; and I do not doubt that, whatever their decision is, they will be open to the severest criticism: that, I think, is almost axiomatic.

One point that bothers me slightly concerns the subject of microfilming. As I understand it, microfilming has a very limited life. I have sought to microfilm certain records from time to time, and it has not been worth doing so, because, from an archive point of view, the life is not long enough. No doubt the British Museum experts know more about this than anyone else. But once one microfilms, I understand that it has to be done again every 20 years. It will be extremely difficult for the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, to read the Boy's Own Paper or the Strand Magazine, even if he is supplied with a special microfilm reader to enlarge it for him. I can assure him that it would be possible, with such a reader, to do so, always assuming that what is still there is readable.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, mentioned the opening hours of the British Museum, and in particular of the Reading Room—a point which has led to criticism, and which certainly seems astonishing, I do not know to what extent the Trustees have made this aspect of their difficulties the subject of protest to the Treasury and the Government. I do not doubt that they have done so, but it is intolerable that the Museum closes at five o'clock and that the Reading Room is open for only two evenings a week. It is an astonishing false economy. One can appreciate that those who are responsible for running the Museum have to do so within their budget, and within the resources and staff at their disposal; but this is one aspect of the matter on which, if the Government are in earnest in their desire, in their almost (I hesitate to use the word) complacent remarks about the British Museum, they will do something. It is impossible to be complacent when an institution which ought to be available to everyone and which should be available for the refreshment and encouragement of those who have to work, as do the great majority of people, closes at five o'clock, which means that many people cannot go there on a weekday. The same applies to the Reading Room.

One of the criticisms I would make of this Bill is the fact that, apart from a brief reference in the Explanatory Memorandum, there is no reference to the National Science Library. I strongly suspect that its importance has not been appreciated. We know that it is being set up and that the Government are spending money but there was a somewhat suspicious—I will not say slip, but reference, because the noble Earl, almost immediately after referring to the National Science Library, talked about these repositories or store-places of books. The National Science Library is going to be an absolutely fundamental instrument in the scientific and technological advance of this country. It will not be able to function just as a library for research students; its functions will be different. And whereas I would not suggest the British Museum Library is not in many ways up to date so far as it has the funds to discharge its functions, we must regard the National Science Library as a piece of very expensive new investment.


Perhaps I might say that I ought not to have used the word "storage" in that context. I had used it earlier in the completely different sense of being stored but not read. What I should have said was, accommodation for the purpose of reading.


I think that this is fundamental to the whole thing. I would not accuse the noble Earl of thinking in such limited terms as the place where one stores books, but it is more than accommodation.


Accommodation for people, as well as books.


Yes, but it is much more than accommodation for people. The newest devices will have to be used; these books will have to be readily available; there must be a degree of extraction. It is not a question just of going to be a place where old gentlemen consult ancient manuscripts.

What worries those of us who have considered this matter is that it is being treated—and this worries us from a financial point of view—as another part of the British Museum. Strong words were used by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, for the separation of the Natural History Museum. I think that the arguments for the separation of the National Science Library are even stronger. Indeed, it is even conceivably arguable that it would be better if it came under the Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History) rather than the British Museum, but I fully accept that there is a strong scientific interest in Bloomsbury as well. This is something on which I rather hope we shall have an opportunity in Committee stage to move an Amendment.

My particular concern is that however much we can afford—and I hope it is a great deal—to spend on the British Museum in Bloomsbury, whatever comes to the National Science Library will come out of whatever is allotted to her. Will there be earmarked grants for the National Science Library? It is argued that two of the Trustees should be particularly representative of science and of scientific libraries. I appreciate the difficulty of having all the special groups represented, although I think that the selection or those who are given the privilege of nomination has been a little arbitrary. I do not quite know why the Royal Academy is being given this right. There are undesirable factors. A technical library is really an active tool, and I should hope that the Government will chink again a little more about it.

My Lords, we shall have an opportunity in the Committee stage to look at certain particular points. There is obviously a general degree of agreement that this Bill should go through. There is also—and I think this is satisfactory—a degree of disquiet and of criticism: not necessarily criticism of any particular individual, but criticism of ourselves, of our ability to understand the significance of these important institutions. Having said that, I conclude by saying that we on this side of the House welcome the Bill and hope that it will soon pass into law.

5.11 p.m.


My Lords, I think it is a very lucky thing, both for the Government and for the public, that in a debate of this kind we are able to hear so many speeches from so many noble Lords who have unrivalled knowledge of the important subject which we are discussing. I could not help feeling, as I listened to the debate, that I hoped—without prejudice to what is in this Bill—that your Lordships' House would never be reformed in the same way as the British Museum Trustees are being reformed now. I do not think it would be a good thing if we were all appointed for ten years by the Prime Minister. It might be, of course, that a similar argument could be applied, as I think my noble friend Lord Crawford would have liked to apply it, to the position of the Trustees. He rather felt, and I have no doubt many people agreed with him, that the Trustees as they are are doing a very good job and there might be some danger in altering their composition. On the other hand, others of your Lordships have felt that the present body of Trustees is a little cumbersome and out of date. I think that most of your Lordships have, on the whole, been willing to contemplate the new kind of body which is provided for in the Bill, with the very proper qualification that the Prime Minister, whoever he may be, must take great care and use very conscientious judgment in selecting the fifteen whom he appoints.

With regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said just now about the possibility of specialist members of the body of Trustees, I think he gave the answer himself by saying that if once you start nominating Trustees who represent special interests you may simply end up with a body of Trustees consisting of specialists who are all representing particular interests. We have provided for four of them to be nominated by these four learned societies, one of which is the Royal Society.

My Lords, I was grateful to the most reverend Primate, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, for his commendably brief but extremely acceptable speech, in which he gave general support to this Bill. I appreciate what he said about the need for awareness and co-operation in each other's work between the Natural History Museum and the British Museum at Bloomsbury. I note that he approves of the greater flexibility in the ordering of the affairs of both these Museums, which he thinks will be provided for in this Bill.

I was particularly grateful, too, for the speech of my noble friend Lord Crawford. He began, he said, by thinking that the Bill was right in its early stages, but he felt that it had become somewhat larger than was necessary. He approved of the greater powers given in Clause 9 in regard to authorised repositories, and the provisions for storage in Clause 3. But he suggested, and I will certainly take note of the point, that there might be a limiting provision, both geographically and in time. I think the geographical point was considered and it was generally felt that, if a limit were put on the space within which objects could be moved, the result might be hampering, and it would be better to leave the decision to the good sense both of the Trustees and of the Government. I dare say the same consideration might apply to a time limit, too, but I will certainly look into my noble friend's argument on that point.

I think he was very moderate in his remarks about separation between the British Museum (Natural History) and the British Museum, as I believe they are going to be called. He said, quite rightly, that this was not being done on the suggestion of the Trustees and that it was not supported by all of them. I think both of those observations are correct. I believe it would also be true to state the converse: that there are some persons who do support it and that the Trustees, as a body, have not made any representations against it. But these, of course, are all negative statements.

As I indicated in my opening remarks, I also sympathise with my noble friend in his regret at the passing of the family Trustees. I agree, in particular, with what he said about the Elgin donation. I believe it cost the great-grandfather of the present Lord Elgin £90,000, and, as he said, it has taken many generations for the family to recover from the very heavy burden which they incurred purely in the national interest. These things need to be said when we are told, as we have been told by some people, that guides sometimes say to tourists how wicked it was of the first Lord Elgin to take those wonderful marbles away. If he had not taken them away they would have been used for target practice by the Turkish soldiers.

May I also say how much I agreed with my noble friend Lord Crawford, in his tribute to the staff of the British Museum. We have not had time in this Second Reading debate to go very much into staff questions, but I think we all agree that the British Museum staff are doing a very fine job of work in surroundings which are sometimes, necessarily perhaps, a little gloomy and forbidding—or at least certain parts of them are.

The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, took a different view about the separation of Bloomsbury and South Kensington. He thought that the connection between the two had always been tenuous, and that it would be better to have two different administrations. He also argued, on the whole, in favour of younger Trustees and more frequent changes in the composition of the body of Trustees. The First Schedule to this Bill provides that each Trustee shall hold office for only such a period as is specified in the instrument by which he is appointed; and that is ten years on appointment, and five years on renewal. So there will be plenty of opportunity to change the Trustees before they become old enough to be themselves exhibits in the Museum rather than administrators.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, paid some very appropriate tributes to the excellence of the British Museum, particularly the Egyptian section, compared with others. He complained, as also did the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, about the early closing of the British Museum. That is naturally a matter of which we must always think, because the more people who want to take advantage of the facilities of the Museum, the more the numbers increase, the greater proportion there is likely to be of those who are able to go there only in the evening. I think that is a matter for the decision of the Trustees and not for the Government. We have enabled the staff at the British Museum in Bloomsbury to be increased this year by 116 people, which is, I think, an increase of 13 per cent. That is as a result of this year's financial grant. I believe that the Trustees are considering whether they can open the Museum on more evenings a week, or at least the Library, the Reading Rooms; but that is a matter which I think they must decide after taking account of the feelings of the staff. I think they have got to consult the staff about it before they come to any decision, and I think I can say no more now, except that it is for the Trustees to make that decision. The same would apply, of course, to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington.

I appreciate what my noble friend Lord Rockley said about the effect of tax remissions in the United States, but I do not think that is a question on which I can make any reply now, although we are to have a debate on economics to-morrow. It is more a question for the other place. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and many others of your Lordships, referred to the paucity of funds—which, of course, we ought always to expect in any debate of this kind. The noble Earl. Lord Crawford, referred to it; the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook; the noble Lords, Lord. Strabolgi and Lord Shackleton, and nearly everybody. They wanted more sums for one or other kind of work which the Museum or the Natural History Museum are doing. I do not think I can go into the priorities of the question. All I can do is to mention to your Lordships the total sums which are being given by the Government to these Museums.

The grant to the British Museum ten years ago was £350,000. This year, the 1963–64 Estimates show an amount of £1,122,000, which is nearly three times what it was ten years ago—and that does not include the expenditure on the Museum's requirements by the Ministry of Public Building and Works, and other Departments which this year will amount to some £900,000. That is for only the Bloomsbury and Colindale Museum. The Natural Museum Vote this year is £665,000. which compares with a figure of £269,000 ten years ago. Then, of course, there is the new expenditure which we have undertaken for the National Scientific Library, on the South Bank, of £1 million; and £10 million for the new British Museum Library at Bloomsbury.

My Lords, all I can say is that these sums of money granted by the Government for the purposes of these museums have been increasing very rapidly. I do not know whether it is a reasonable assumption that they will go on doing so—that depends on many things—but they have been increasing with great rapidity. The capital expenditure to which we are now committed is very much larger than it has ever been before, and I think that the priorities—that is, the precise proportions into which this Government grant should be divided as between one branch of the Museum's work and another branch—is a question which, in the first instance, at any rate, has to be decided by the Trustees; and it would not be justifiable for the Government to override their view of the priorities unless there were very special circumstances.

However, I do not ever object to any of your Lordships pressing the Government for more money for more purposes. It is occasionally my duty to talk on behalf of the Treasury, and to point out that if all your Lordships' requests were to be fulfilled the total national expenditure would be far more than we could ever afford. But that is no reason why your Lordships should not go on pressing for more money to be spent; and I entirely approve of the general principle that we ought to spend generous sums (which, on the whole, I think it can be claimed we are now doing) on these Museums, which form, perhaps, only a very small fraction of our total scientific and educational work in this country, but one which is very important and which, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, began by saying, rightly arouses very deep feelings in this country.


My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, may I point out that I interrupted him earlier on the subject of the National Science Library, and he said that at that moment he was making a short speech. He has made a rather short one now. Could he not deal with the points I made about the National Science Library?


My Lords, I cannot deal with many points because it does not begin until 1966 and we do not know what it is going to be like. I think the point the noble Lord asked about was whether it was going to be open for longer than the British Museum. That is a matter on which I do not think we can prophesy at the present time, but certainly appreciate, and have noted, the argument of the noble Lord about the general desirability of enabling people who want to use these Libraries, particularly scientific students, to be able to use them later in the evening.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and referred to an Unopposed Bill Committee.