HL Deb 31 January 1973 vol 338 cc589-91

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that the Library of the Royal Anthropological Institute requires financial support to preserve it undispersed and in this country: and whether they will take steps to procure this support.


My Lords, the Institute has approached me for financial help for its Library. I share the concern that the Library should not be sold or dispersed for lack of funds, but at present there are no funds from which the Government could contribute towards its expenses. Section 1(3)(b) of the British Library Act 1972, however, empowers the British Library Board to do so and I have advised the Institute to make its case to the Board as soon as the latter is established.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Viscount for that Answer, which gives a sort of qualified hope to those of us who are concerned with this matter? May I take it that the Government are aware that this is a priceless treasure, which we owe largely to our 19th century ancestors, and if it is lost it is lost for ever? May we have some assurance that that is really understood?


My Lords, I think I can satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Snow. This particular section was put into the British Library Act expressly to deal with cases of this kind. On the other hand, it is, of course, for the Board to make up their own minds. I have no doubt at all that the continuance of several very important specialist libraries on their own, with some help is much better than trying to take them inside the British Library.


My Lords, would the Government look favourably on any application for a special grant, as they do in the case of paintings of national interest?


No, my Lords. We have taken this special power as the most sensible way to deal with this matter, because the British Library will have the knowledge with which to assess each case. I hope the Board will be constituted and in operation in only a few weeks from now.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount whether he is aware that this particular Institute is having to engage in a major fund raising activity of a kind which cannot be easy for a learned body to undertake? It is an exceptionally serious situation, and any way in which he could give a fair wind to it would be welcomed by a wide group of people who are deeply concerned about one of our most important scientific institutes. At the same time, may I ask the noble Viscount whether he would bear in mind reviewing the position of other learned bodies who may have similar problems? In putting that question forward, I do not wish in any way to minimise the seriousness of the position of the Royal Anthropological Institute. The noble Viscount probably knows what I have in mind about other bodies.


My Lords, certainly I know of the difficulties under which the Royal Anthropological Institute Library is housed in the British museum. I am also aware of several other specialist libraries whose collections are now costing more than they can easily meet, including the one in which the noble Lord himself is very interested.