HL Deb 25 April 1972 vol 330 cc285-95

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Eccles.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [The British Library]:

LORD STRABOLGI moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 8, after ("books") insert ("including significant overseas publications").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 1. The White Paper, in paragraph 3(a), says: The objective of the British Library will be to provide the best possible central library services for the United Kingdom. They include: preserving and making available for reference at least one copy of every book and periodical of domestic origin and of as many overseas publications as possible. The aim will be to provide as comprehensive a reference service of last resort as possible. It is in order to follow those laudable words, with which I fully agree, that I submit that we should include the words in the Amendment; that after "books" we should insert "including significant overseas publications".

The 1967 Report on Libraries by the University Grants Committee defined the role of the National Library in the provisions of foreign literature as twofold. It said: It should attempt to be as wide-ranging as possible in its own stock, and should be the centre for the planning on a national scale for the fullest possible coverage of foreign literature. The Dainton Committee examined the Farmington Scheme operated in the United States of America under the auspices of the Library of Congress, but concluded that this scheme would not be suitable for this country. On the other hand, the Dainton Committee recommended that there should be a scheme, perhaps of more limited scope, for co-operative acquisition of foreign books to avoid duplication and to make the best use of our financial resources.

The noble Viscount the Paymaster General, when he addressed the International Federation of Library Associations in Liverpool last August, as reported in The Times of August 31, suggested that an international library service might be set up to facilitate acquisitions and lending between countries. I fully agree with this. The noble Viscount also pointed out that the British Museum had arranged for the exchange of material with 299 official bodies in 82 countries, and that during 1970 the Museum received by exchange 311,000 official publications. For all those reasons, I believe that the words in the Amendment which stands in the names of myself and my noble friend Lady Lee of Asheridge should be included in the Bill.


I have the same desire as the noble Lord opposite: namely, that the collections in the British Library should cover as many foreign publications as possible. We feel that line 3 of Clause 1(1) describes that adequately, because we there say: …consisting of a comprehensive collection of books, manuscripts, periodicals, films and other recorded matter, whether printed or otherwise. I cannot conceive of any librarian anywhere who would not interpret "comprehensive" as covering "a large amount of foreign material".

The facts to-day are that if one takes the figures of the intake of books, maps, periodicals and newspapers into the British Museum, 25 per cent. only are the result of deposit by law, 75 per cent. are acquired, and of that 75 per cent. by far the larger proportion is foreign material. So what the noble Lords want is already happening. Therefore I do not think the Amendment is necessary. It will never be possible, as even the Library of Congress has discovered, to buy everything that is printed overseas. There is now just too much being published in Europe, Asia and America, and the volume goes up all the time. Therefore you have to proceed by selection of what you actually buy, by co-operation among specialist libraries in this country, and by inter-lending between libraries in this country and overseas, all of which are obvious duties of the new Board. I hope, therefore, that we shall not try to spell that out in an Amendment.

Coming to the Amendment itself, it is defective in two respects. First of all, the Amendment says, "significant overseas publications" in relation to books only, whereas periodicals of course are equally as important as books when you arc making a national reference collection—as indeed, I suspect, some people will consider manuscripts, films and other recorded matter to be. Therefore we could not put it in where it is suggested, even if we thought in principle that it was right.

Secondly, what do we mean by the word "significant"? In point of fact the acquisition of foreign material by the British Library, or for that matter any other national library, is really conditioned by the amount of grant they get for acquisitions and how they want to split it between one type of acquisition and another. I do not think it would be a good thing to be able to refer to an Act of Parliament and say: "It is significant that you should buy this category of book rather than that category." That is why we shall be appointing the best people to manage the Library, not forgetting the acquisition department. Therefore I would ask your Lordships getting the acquisitions department. hensive collection, in any librarian's mind, covers "significant" overseas material.


I thank the noble Viscount for that reply. Of course this is a probing Amendment—I do not pretend otherwise—and I accept what he says about its being defective. On the other hand, a manuscript is not a publication. It would not be very difficult to get it right, but the main thing is that the Government have accepted the principle of the matter. The noble Viscount cannot have it both ways. You cannot have a comprehensive selection and yet a selective intake of overseas publications, whether they be periodicals or books.

I also accept what the noble Viscount says about the Farmington scheme. I believe there are 300,000 titles being pub lished all over the world every year and it is virtually impossible even for the United States to acquire all of them as they come out. On the other hand, I am very glad that this great effort is being made to acquire overseas publications—not only modern ones but older books as well, because I am afraid that there are considerable gaps in this category. The British Museum Library is almost complete so far as our own literature is concerned, as of course it would be from the copyright point of view, but it has considerable gaps in foreign books. I could list quite a number of some of the greatest novels in the world which are not included in their first editions in the British Museum collection. Also, I think it is right to say that research students now wishing to study, say, Western European or even English literature to a certain extent have to go to the United States. It was really to pinpoint this matter that I put the Amendment forward, and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.23 p.m.

LORD STRABOLGI moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 13, after ("study") insert ("exhibition").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 2. When we debated the White Paper in March last year, the noble Viscount the Minister confirmed to me that there would be exhibition space in the new building, I was very glad to hear it. I am surprised, therefore, that the word "exhibition" has been omitted from the list of important functions envisaged for the Library in the Bill. I hope that the British Library will greatly extend its exhibition field and will do for the printed word what our museums and galleries have for some years now done for the visual arts by way of special exhibitions. I am thinking of much more ambitious exhibitions than the small more or less permanent shows in the King's Library of a few outstanding books, as for example the First Folio, the Kilmarnock Burns or the 1865 Alice.

The British Museum section of the exhibition on "Printing and the Mind of Man" was a splendid show. It showed a new trend, was catholic in its taste, intelligent in its choices of material and extremely stimulating to view, and with it was produced a very fine and scholarly catalogue. There have been others recently, of course. There was a very interesting one last year on the Paris Commune Centenary, and also one devoted to children's books. I hope that this policy will be continued. For those reasons, I think it would be a great advantage to have the word "exhibition" in the Bill.


Again I agree entirely with the objective of the noble Lord opposite, but this clause defines the principal functions of the Library and I think we must take exhibitions, if I may say so, as one of the "second eleven" functions—of which, of course, there would be many others, such as giving lectures, sales of reproductions, prints and postcards and, I suppose, even restaurants. In any case, we have covered exhibitions sufficiently, we think, in subsection (4) of this clause where we say that: The Board may … lend any item, and make any part of their collections, or of their premises, available in connection with events of an educational, literary or cultural nature. That was deliberately put in to cover exhibitions, because these are, of course, of growing importance.

I would tell the noble Lord that in comparison with the totally inadequate space to which he has referred in the King's Library—which I must say is very well made use of, considering that it it not really what one wants—the new building will contain 2,500 square metres. I am afraid that I am not able to translate that into square feet but there will be 2,500 square metres of exhibition space, which represents an enormous improvement on what we have at present. I would agree with him that exhibitions which do more than simply place on view the main printings of an author's works are highly desirable. The new method, which I think was due to the Bibliothèque Nationale and the efforts of M. Julien Cain, who started by taking an author and then exhibiting everything to show how he had come to write the sort of things that he did write and the sort of pictures which lie had admired and so on, is a tremendously interesting and attractive way of mounting these exhibitions. I have no doubt at all that when space is available, as it will be in the new building, that type of exhibition will be put on. I hope that the Committee will not want the word "exhibition" included here. It is already covered in Clause 1(4), and I do not think it is quite on a level with the major functions of the British Library.


I thank the noble Viscount for that reply. I am sorry he thinks that exhibitions are part of the "second eleven". I should have thought they have a much more important function to play than that, but I am very glad to hear that the new building will have a great exhibition space of 2,500 square metres. As the noble Viscount said, there are difficulties with the King's Library; I have never measured the two but I do not think it is very much smaller than the room on the first floor of the Bibliothèque Nationale mentioned by the noble Viscount where they have these exhibitions arranged by M. Cain, the curator.

As the noble Viscount said, the French have in the years since the war put on the most notable exhibitions devoted to the centenaries or bicentenaries of their leading authors. I have a whole row of catalogues at home which are permanent works of reference. From the scholarly point of view and from the educational point of view this is the trend that we need to follow in this country. We have not even begun to touch on it, although the Victoria and Albert Museum did very well and had something much more up to the French standard with their exhibition devoted to Charles Dickens. I am sorry that the noble Viscount is not prepared to include the words in the Amendment. I should have thought that subsection (4) of Clause 1 was far too loose for this particular purpose; but, having made the point, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.31 p.m.

BARONESS LEE OF ASHERIDGE moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1, line 13, leave out from ("bibliographical") to ("services") in line 14.

The noble Baroness said: I have every sympathy with the Minister and his advisers in seeking to draft a Bill covering so wide a field. My two Amendments are probing Amendments in order that we may be quite sure that certain matters which are of immense interest to all of us are not excluded. For instance, the wording of subsection (2) reads: …'the British Library Board', whose duty it shall be to manage the Library as a national centre for reference, study and bibliographical and other information services, in relation both to scientific and technological matters and to the humanities. It may be that those words meet completely what we have in mind; but we have put down these Amendments in order that the Minister should clarify the position. For instance, "scientific and technological matters" are squarely stated. After that we have, "and to the humanities". The question in our mind is this: what precisely is meant by "the humanities"? Are we thinking in a narrow sense, mainly in a literary sense, or by "the humanities" are we covering social services? In the modern world there is an immense amount of literature and study in the widest sense over the whole field of social services.

We are not in any way married to the words of our Amendment and we do not mean to press it; but we should like to be sure that when the Bill says, "and other information services", that phrase includes the wide field of social services as well as industrial, scientific and technological matters. If it would suit the convenience of the Committee I should like to move both those Amendments together because they arc completely interrelated.


I am afraid that I can put only one Amendment at a time to the Commitee.


In so far as this is a probing Amendment I have nothing particular to say about it; but the noble Baroness referred in particular to the social services, that twilight zone between the sciences and the humanities. I am concerned to be reassured that "other information services" would cover such things as abstracting services, one at least of which is carried out at the Library of the Natural History Museum and at Boston Spa in the shape of what is now largely a bibliographical service of the zoological record. That is dealt with by a private society, but in due course one would hope that it will become the responsibility of the Library service. I should like reassurance on that matter from the noble Viscount, just as the noble Baroness wants reassurance with regard to the social services.


Would it be for the convenience of the Committee if I referred first to Amendment No. 3 and then to the other Amendment which has been mentioned in both speeches so far? I am glad that the Amendment to leave out "bibliographical and other information services" is in the nature of a probing Amendment because this is an integral part of the British Library. It is for that reason that we are bringing in the British National Bibliography, and the information services that go with it. May I reassure noble Lords that we have no intention—at least I hope that the Board will have no intention—of duplicating any good information services that are in operation to-day. The problem of any museum or library is always the double duty of, on the one hand, making a collection of objects or books as comprehensive as possible, and, on the other hand, making that collection available to the public. You cannot make collections of books and printed material available to the public unless you provide bibliographical and information services.

There is the further point that as the cataloguing services become computer based—and we can see that this is going to happen—there will open up a whole range of information services to the public which we are not able to provide at present. I should think that noble Lords would consider this an integral part of the new institution which we are setting up. So I assume that that covers the first Amendment which was to leave out this function of bibliographical services and other information services, which seem to me to be part of the Library.


The word "bibliographical" was left in. There is a misunderstanding. The phrase we were concerned about was, "and other information services". We wanted to be reassured that social services would be included.


The noble Viscount misunderstood me. I was asking for a reassurance from him in the opposite way to which he gave it me. I was hoping that the Library service itself would be ready to undertake the provision of abstracting services because the time is shortly coming when nobody else will be able to do it.


I entirely agree with my noble friend; that is why we want this left in the Bill. I cannot pretend to foresee what technological developments will bring. My noble friend is probably right; some of the information services (and I was connected with the National Book League which on a shoestring ran a very good information service, replying to some 75,000 telephone calls a year) will have to be considered. There will come a time when we shall have to consider how these services can be rationalised.


I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I do not wish to detain the Committee. I have already spoken on Amendment No. 4, and I beg to move it formally.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 15, at end insert ("and social sciences").—(Baroness Lee of Asheridge.)


I received something of a shock last night because until then this Amendment had referred to "social services". Yesterday, noble Lords opposite, in their wisdom—and, if I may say so, very much for the better—decided to amend it to "social sciences". This is a very interesting point to which I should like to direct your Lordships' attention. It is necessary in this clause to define the main function of the British Library and then to state the subject matter in relation to which those functions are to be exercised. The words used in the Bill are: … in relation both to scientific and technological matters and to the humanities. I have to admit that I was not content with those words because they perpetuate what I consider to be an unworthy and out-of-date attempt by certain persons, of great eminence, to split knowledge into the arts and the sciences. Of course there was a time when the scientists were struggling for recognition alongside the arts or the humanities, and I quite understand that when one is working one's way upward to be recognised as the equal of the elder brother, things of this kind matter very much; one wants to be seen to be equal in public. But I had hoped that the rivalry between these two great sides of human knowledge was now dying down and that we had really begun to revert to the older conception of the universality of knowledge, and that the words in the Bill might relate to the whole of human knowledge. That is what I should have liked to have. But I was told that I must perpetuate the division because there were people who minded very much about it, and so we have the words in the Bill as they are.

Then along come the social sciences, and they say, "But we are a still further division in knowledge. The Bill refers to science and technological matters, and to the humanities, and we, the social sciences, wish to be distinguished as a branch of learning." I find it difficult to follow the argument because in my view the social sciences are a mixture of the two; they are not a separate category. So far as I can understand it, social sciences are humane because they are social and they are scientific because they are sciences, and therefore they are really subsumed under the two great categories which I regret we have to keep of science and technology, on the one hand, and the humanities, which cover everything.

The noble Baroness asked, "What do the humanities cover?" So far as I understand it, we have always accepted the humanities as covering everything that was outside, strictly, what are known as the various sciences. I therefore feel that it would be retrograde to go on splitting up knowledge into new categories. I should welcome it if the Committee would support me (I have no idea whether it would) in changing my own words to "the whole of human knowledge". But, failing that, we ought to stop at what has now become the accredited division between science, on one side, and the humanities or the arts, on the other. Therefore I should be sorry to see our going further in the direction of fragmentation of knowledge.


It is a very unusual experience to be able to congratulate a noble Lord opposite on being ahead of his time. But I gather from the noble Viscount's observations that he is now prepared to include the social sciences under scientific matters dealing with human subjects. I am entirely with him on this, but he is ahead of his time and ahead of public knowledge and public opinion. I think that the reason why we are asking for the social sciences to be separately mentioned is just to establish this very point: that it is possible to approach problems of human living and human relations in a scientific way. However, I do not think any of us wish to press this Amendment, and I merely hoped that I might take the opportunity of congratulating the noble Viscount on his recognition of the universality of human knowledge and of the application of scientific techniques and scientific methods to these human problems.


I hope that the Minister has found the noble Baroness's speech as seductive as I have, and that he will respond completely in the spirit of it. We have no desire at all to have false divisions, but we do not want science or technology to be interpreted almost exclusively in relation to the very important subject of earning our living as a nation. There is also the problem of how people live. All kinds of human problems and human relationships are served by social services of many kinds. Provided we all agree that this is what is in our spirit, I do not think anyone would wish to press this Amendment, and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

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