HL Deb 18 June 1963 vol 250 cc1191-4

3.32 p.m.

Report of Amendments received (according to Order).

Clause 1 [Altered composition of British Museum Trustees]:

BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER moved to add to subsection (1): and there shall be included in the Trustees persons appearing to the Prime Minister to be qualified as having had experience of and having shown capacity in science or technology including cybernetics tics especially in formation processing systems. For the purposes of this subsection. "cybernetics" means the theory and practice of control and communication processes.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, your Lordships may remember that on the Committee stage of this Bill my noble friend Lord Shackleton moved an Amendment providing that, if and when a National Library of Science should be established, this should be under the control of a body of trustees separate from the British Museum Trustees, though closely linked with them. That proposal was not acceptable to the Government. We are now proceeding to provide, therefore, for the main object of that proposal in a rather different form, which will maintain the link with the British Museum in its original form—that is to say, in which the National Science Reference Library will be directly under the control of the Trustees of the British Museum.

At the same time, we are proposing that provision should be made for this new and important departure in the foundation of the National Science Reference Library, which should include steps which will secure that among the Trustees of the British Museum there are persons who are conversant with the special new problems that will be raised by the establishment of this Library. May I remind your Lordships that it is now known that the Library will be established and that the early steps towards its creation are already in progress?

The Bill as it stands provides that fifteen of the Trustees—that is to say, more than half—will be appointed by the Prime Minister and it leaves wide open the nature of these appointments. While we would accept that, in general, it is a good thing not to tie down too closely the choice of persons who are to hold these important and responsible offices and who between them have to cover practically the whole field of human learning, we think that there are special reasons for suggesting that the particular qualities required for the National Science Reference Library should at least find a mention in the Bill.

The first reason for this is that this is entirely a new enterprise. It is not an enterprise in which the British Museum is at present engaged. It is true, as I said on Committee stage, that the British Museum runs a magnificent Library, but this is going to be a Library which is different in quality and in kind, as well as in scale, from the existing Library. It is a new enterprise and accordingly there is no tradition that persons who are conversant with the problems of this kind of enterprise should be included among the Trustees of the Museum.

I want to emphasise that the Museum will now be launching out into a new field, not only of library administration, not only of the sciences, but of the enormously expanding field of scientific information, which I think has now to be reckoned as a wide branch of science in itself. A science reference library is not at all the same thing as a library. A library is largely concerned with books and journals. A science reference library is something much more than simply a library in which there are books with scientific titles instead of literary titles and journals dealing with scientific subjects as well as journals dealing with literary subjects. A science reference library is not so much concerned with the mobilisation and retrieval of documents as with the mobilisation and retrieval of information, which is a different and very technical matter. The Library itself is being built up on what is already a highly specialised library, not the Library of the British Museum but the Patents Office Library. That in itself is evidence of the peculiar and extremely specialised and original character that the National Science Reference Library will have.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lady for a point of clarification? From her opening sentence, I gathered that she might be discussing Amendment No. 8 together with this one?


No, my Lords.


We are confining ourselves now to Amendment No. 1 and the noble Lady will have a separate word about No. 8 after Clause 7? Is that right?


My Lords, that entirely so. My remarks are entirely addressed to Amendment No. 1. Amendment No. 8 deals with a different aspect of the matter. It may be that it is another road to the same goal but it is, in fact, a different one. I would remind your Lordships that this is a new and exciting enterprise and a highly technical one. I know that it is not desirable that every technical speciality should be represented at the highest level—that is, among the Trustees of the Museum itself, but there are special reasons for providing that there will be persons who are skilled in this field. The reasons are the novelty of the field, the absence of any tradition of trustees who are interested in it and the fact that it is a highly experimental field.

Many of the experiments which are in progress in this field are extremely expensive. The development of scientific information is not only a matter of a system of classification and indexing, common to other library work. It has also largely become a field in which mechanical instruments are employed. Many of these instruments are extremely expensive and the question of use or non-use is one which will involve large questions of policy and expenditure. Therefore, it seems important that we should provide now that there should be some members of the Board of Trustees of the British Museum who are competent to judge the wisdom of proposals for expenditures of this kind, which are likely to increase rapidly as and when the Library comes into existence.

For those reasons, we should like to make an exception in the general rule that the choice of Trustees should be left wide open and not restricted. So far as the Trustees appointed by the Prime Minister are concerned, we do not want to indicate at all narrowly the qualifications of any particular Trustees. We do not want to restrict those in other fields. We really want to make provision that there will be account taken of qualifications for which there has not yet been a demand; that there will be room for something new, and for a new tradition to be built up, so that we have represented among the Trustees, not only all branches of human learning in the arts and the humanities, and not only the wide fields of the various sciences, but also this new field with which we have hardly yet become acquainted—namely, the field of scientific information. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 17, at end insert the said words.—(Baroness Wootton of Abinger.)


My Lords, as I understand that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is now in a position to make his statement on Central Africa, I beg to move that the Report stage of the Bill be adjourned during pleasure, in order to allow my noble and learned friend to make the statement.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.