§ 8.9 p.m.
§ LORD SUDELEY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they intend to take any further action on the export of manuscripts and historic documents; and if so, what and when. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in his Motion of March 15, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, originally intended to include the export of manuscripts as well as works of art. Let me begin by saying how grateful I am to the noble Lord for having cut down the scope of his Motion, and for confining it to works of art so as to make room for this debate about manuscripts. The two subjects are really quite distinct and ought never to have been merged. By "works of art", many people mean, in the first instance, paintings, and most of the great pictures in this country were imported. But in manuscripts and historic documents of our own this country is very rich. We have a literature which compares with that of the Ancient Greeks and, on account of the continuity of our institutions, which is unique by European standards, our records are wonderfully preserved. For other reasons, the two subjects-works of art and manuscripts-should be kept distinct. The importance of a manuscript to the historian often has little enough to do with its price. So there is not much sense in thinking of manuscripts in terms of their cash value, even though this may be the thinking behind the present regulations, which allow the holder of a bulk licence never to apply for a specific licence in the case of a manuscript which is worth less than £100. Many of the pieces of paper which an historian is chasing after may he worth no more than about £10 each.
§ Then, many people assume it is a good thing that there should be a brisk trade in works of art and that London should be a centre of the world art market. But in the case of manuscripts the opposite should obtain. It is better for history that the market in manuscripts which their export does so much to promote should he cut down as much as possible, for in the disposal of manuscripts, the one thing that an historian dreads even more than their export is any infringe 792 ment of the principle of le respect des fonds, by which I mean the removal of a manuscript from the accumulation to which it has always belonged. A manuscript may mean little by itself but everything according to how it has been placed in its group or series. It suits a dealer, on the other hand, more interested in profits than he is in history, to break up an accumulation as, if an accumulation can be sold in parts, then the sums of money obtained by all those parts will come to more than might be fetched by a straightforward sale of the whole. Moreover, a dealer can sell seven-ninths of an accumulation and then keep back the remainder in order to increase its value and rarity.
§ My Lords, at the time of the Waverley Report, on which all subsequent policy to do with the export of manuscripts has been based, the main question was not the export of manuscripts but their rescue from attics; so we are suffering now from a policy which, in its rudiments, was never intended to deal with export on its present scale. I should like to give one or two details which indicate the size and seriousness of the problem as it is. Many of our manuscripts go over to the United States and, as they do so, access may be refused. On the export of our older manuscripts a few restrictions exist; but on the export of those of our manuscripts less than 70 years old no restrictions are imposed at all. This is particularly damaging to the new study of contemporary history. As the manuscripts of our authors and poets go overseas, so the definitive editions of their works must be brought out overseas. The mechanical labours of Fredson Bowers have shown that no definitive edition can be brought out which is not based on the original manuscript.
§ For some time the Government have acknowledged the existence of the problem. We have had the De Beer Committee, the Green Paper, the fund managed by the Victoria and Albert Museum for the purchase of manuscripts, and the valuable concessions in the Finance Act 1972 and the Finance Bill of this year. Scholars are grateful for these gestures, but they do not feel that the problem has been tackled at its roots, and a rigid system of protection is needed. There are two methods by which such a system of protection might be 793 imposed. We might draw up a list of the types of manuscript which should not be exported, and then throw the burden of seeing that they are not on the Post Office and on the Customs. Such was the policy envisaged in the Marquand Bill, and such is the policy envisaged still by the British Records Association, which has drawn up a better list than was printed in the Marquand Bill. But such a policy has been criticised, rightly, on the grounds that it would be difficult to enforce, and also it would be infringement of the principle of le respect des fonds.
§ A second method of rigid protection which might be imposed, and one which I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government to consider, would be the establishment of a registry of the great accumulations in the land which should be forbidden export. For the establishment of such a registry, much of the work has already been done through the listing of private papers by the National Register of Archives, the volumes of Bishops' registers published by the Canterbury and York Society, the survey of economic thought carried out by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, the survey of scientific papers carried out by the archivist of the Royal Institution, the location of political archives project, and so on.
§ It may be objected against such a rigid system of protection that those with accumulations yet to be listed would become reluctant to yield them up for investigation. That would indeed be a disadvantage. It may also be objected that those with accumulations already listed would feel that their rights as owners had been infringed; but that, I think, is less of an objection. It is old-fashioned Tory doctrine that property is held in trust, so that the possession of it creates obligations, which could be interpreted to mean in the case of manuscripts that you should not sell what you have to an American institution which then refuses access. It is true that for a long time there have been too many Whigs or Liberals in the Tory Party—cuckoos in the Tory nest, as a friend once put it to me—to whom ownership has been an absolute thing. But as, over the last few months, my Party has abandoned its policy of laissez faire, I am hoping they 794 may also have come round once more to the old-fashioned Tory view on ownership.
§ Then, there are great advantages in the system of rigid protection which I recommend. Literary manuscripts may not lend themselves to being defined by types so easily as the historical, and it should be easy enough to draw up a list of writers—for instance, those mentioned in the Dictionary of National Biography —whose manuscripts should not be exported. Then, no charge could he brought against the system of protection which I recommend that here the law is being made so rigid that the mere result will be to promote the clandestine export of manuscripts. If a manuscript from an accumulation forbidden export turns up in the United States, it should be easy enough to find the owner in this country. But I know that the rigid system of protection which I recommend may be too strong for Her Majesty's Government. so I should also like to put forward, and ask Her Majesty's Government whether they would consider them, a set of weaker alternatives, which I shall suggest in my survey of this complicated question.
§ As to public records, the Scottish Record Office possesses a power of recovery without purchase which is not cut off at all by prescription or acquiescence. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they would consider amending the Limitation Act 1939 so as to put the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane on the same footing as exists up in Scotland; and, if so, whether Her Majesty's Government might not extend the definition of a public record over which such power of recovery might be exercised. This it should be easy enough to do, as the Public Records Act 1958 empowers the Government to widen the definition of a public record merely by laying an Order in Council for the approval of Parliament. Such an extension in the meaning of a public record might be taken to include more politicians' papers; for instance, those dealing with aspects of high policy which a Minister has claimed to be part of his private correspondence. As it is, the suspicion is bound to exist in the public mind that the loophole on the export of manuscripts less than 70 years old has been left open deliberately so that the 795 widows of politicians can sell their papers to the United States.
§ As to the ecclesiastical records, the deans and chapters of cathedrals have a power of disposal over their manuscripts very much greater than is enjoyed by those in charge of parish records. There is no reason why the records of the deans and chapters of cathedrals should enjoy this preferential treatment; so I am delighted that in the Synod in November a Measure should be enacted whereby the Advisory Committee will be turned into a statutory body to which the deans and chapters must refer if they wish to dispose of their manuscripts. The trade is fond of recommending, as an alternative to imposing more controls on the export of manuscripts of any kind, the expenditure of more public money for their purchase. I am hoping that Her Majesty's Government will consider carefully whether the mere effect of this policy will be to drive up the prices of manuscripts and so induce many owers to sell rather than to give or deposit what they have.
§ So much for the British supply of manuscripts. I come now to the conditions under which they should pass to the United States. The Waverley criteria by which it is decided whether manuscripts should leave the country are to be criticised on account of the extreme vagueness of their application to any particular case. Being so vague, they can be used as a screen behind which a licence for export is allowed for the more definite reason that not enough public money exists for the purchase of the manuscripts. Under the Waverley criteria a licence may be refused and still manuscripts can leave the country because not enough public money may be forthcoming. To this unsatisfactory position I should like to suggest two alternatives. The first is the Spanish progressive tariff on the export of manuscripts. This would do much to eliminate overseas competitors. An Englishman would be more inclined to sell his manuscripts to a British institution if he knew that by selling overseas he would have to pay a heavy tax. I should like also to ask Her Majesty's Government to consider the French practice: the pre-emption of manuscripts immediately after sale at the auction, regardless of cost. As it is, the mere possibility that a manuscript may 796 go overseas because there will not be enough public money for its purchase must drive up the price of the manuscript at the auction. In an article for the Society of Archivists, Mr. Ellis pointed out that a dealer can pay £10,000 for a manuscript, having bid that sum at auction, and then because the State does not exercise any immediate right of preemption this dealer can go on to sell the manuscript to an American institution for £20,000. It is then £20,000 public money which must be found to save the manuscript.
§ I come now to the conditions under which once a licence is granted a manuscript should be allowed to leave the country. The trade is fond of quoting the argument of Sir Thomas Phillipps that a market in manuscripts promotes the scrutiny of much material which might otherwise be ignored. That is an argument which the trade do not always put into practice. A manuscript may be brought to the attention of scholars by coming up for sale at an auction, but then, acting on the instructions of an American client, a dealer will refuse to tell the scholars where the manuscript is going. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether the Department of Trade and Industry might be forced to reveal the details of applications for specific licences to all outside parties who are interested; and, if so, whether Her Majesty's Government might not abolish the bulk licences so as to increase the number of specific licences that must be applied for; although I know that Her Majesty's Government may be reluctant to abolish bulk licences as the threat of their withdrawal gives the authorities a good lien on the dealer in a field where the law is hard to enforce.
§ Once a manuscript leaves the country it is essential that the scholars should have access to it and be given the copies they need. Whether the export of manuscripts should be forbidden without copies represents one of the chief areas of conflict between the scholars and the trade. The University of Texas and the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library and other institutions in America buy manuscripts with bequests specifying that they cannot purchase anything of which a copy already exists. For that and 797 other reasons the trade like to represent that the making of copies diminishes the value of manuscripts. So whereas the Waverley Report recommended the making of copies, we now have a position in which copies are required only in special instances.
§ I am not going to propose that copies should always be required, but I should like to suggest this compromise. By the Sale of Goods Act 1892 certain conditions are implied by Statute in a contract of sale if both parties are silent. These conditions relate to the state of the goods. In the case of manuscripts there is no prima facie legal reason why invariable conditions should not be imposed on a contract of sale. Such invariable conditions could relate to the use of manuscripts and to the taking of copies of them by scholars. The question is whether any such Statute can be enforced in the U.S.A. Such a situation in which there is a conflict of law has occurred frequently. I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, asking how in this instance it might be resolved. The noble Baroness did not say whether it would be necessary to consult each of the 51 States of America or to change the U.S. law. This is something which I think might be looked into.
§ My Lords, I have done with the facts, the suggestions and the arguments and I should like to conclude with a matter of opinion. The trade is fond of saying that it is only a vociferous minority among scholars which objects to the export of manuscripts; the majority is content and silent. But I think that certain reasons, reasons which have nothing to do with the export of manuscripts, exist for that silence. Established scholars can go to the U.S.A.; Ph.D. students often cannot. But the established scholars do not mind; they feel that there are far too many Ph.D. students. Some of the older universities, especially Oxford, induce a strong sense of claustrophobia; so many scholars from these universities welcome the chance of a visit to United States; and they do it merely in order to escape from themselves.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, I am sure we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, for raising this question 798 and I myself am particularly grateful for his taking on the other half, so to speak. As the noble Lord was kind enough to say, he and I really made an arrangement together because it was thought better in the debate on exports that we had in March to concentrate on the export of works of art, a big subject in itself, and to treat manuscripts in a separate debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord for taking this on. I should like to congratulate him, if I may, on his very clear and reasoned speech and also on the number of important questions that he has raised. He has obviously gone into this subject thoroughly. He has a great interest in the subject and we shall be glad and interested to hear what the Minister has to say in reply to many of the important points raised by the noble Lord.
Of course, the noble Lord is quite right. This is a matter which is causing concern in certain quarters, and I think that there is a need to strike a fair balance between the rights of owners and the legitimate needs of scholars; not only scholars in this country, but scholars on both sides of the Atlantic. Certainly, as the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, has said, in the last decade we have seen a virtual flood of manuscripts, mainly to the United States. Many of these have gone to universities, as I think he admitted, whose librarians, in their enterprise and enthusiasm—supported of course by considerable financial resources—remind us of that great British collector to whom the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, referred, Sir Thomas Phillipps, who was doing exactly the same thing in the last century. He bought up almost everything he could lay hands on in Europe and brought them to this country.
My Lords, it is fair to say that in recent years we have seen the Bertrand Russell papers, for example, go to Ontario and the J. L. Garvin papers—very important, too—to Texas. The Humanities Research Centre at Texas University—this is only one example—have acquired, by private treaty, all Evelyn Waugh's papers and manuscripts, as well as his entire library, including the furniture. It is probable that Texas, which was first in the field before our own libraries woke up, has now an unrivalled collection of original 20th century source material, just 799 as Yale is pre-eminent in the 18th century. I think that we need to differentiate between original literary material and historical records, and here I am with the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley. Literature, in my humble view, belongs to the world, and I do not think it much matters where it is lodged, particularly in a shrinking world, provided that it is well looked after and that there is reasonable freedom of access and an efficient microfilm service. Indeed, it is better that the whole corpus of an author's work should be kept together, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, who, during the debate on the arts, said that the right place for any further Boswell papers, if these should turn up, would be Yale rather than the British Museum. I therefore regret very much that the British Museum Library was not able to acquire the corrected proofs of George Eliot's novels when they came on the market recently, as the Library already possesses all the manuscripts and it would then have been possible for scholars to study these together.
My Lords, the American bookseller who had acquired them at auction in London shared this view, and he generously offered the proofs to the British Museum for the sum that he had paid, plus 10 per cent., about £25,000 in all. I think we should remember this in the context of one of Lord Sudeley's remarks, that in general, dealers are more interested in profit than in history. The offer was regretfully refused and an export licence was granted. It was not a very large sum to find compared, say, with the Titian, and I think that we should feel absolutely ashamed of ourselves that we did not make more effort to retain these proofs by one of our best novelists. I am glad to say that the Arts Council scheme to acquire manuscripts by living writers in conjunction with libraries seems to be working well and I hope that this will be extended.
I welcome also the news that the Government have recently made available a £30,000 grant to enable provincial libraries and museums to buy manuscripts, documents and photographs. I am very glad that this year's Finance Bill will allow estate duty remissions on important historic documents offered to museums in the same way as works of 800 art. I agree with the recent decision to raise the value for bulk licence holders from £50 to £100 and to reduce the period for which a licence is required from 100 years to 70 years, which will get rather more in the control orbit and go some way to meet some of the fears of the noble Lord.
But, my Lords, are all these measures really enough? Surely what is needed is sufficient funds to enable our libraries to compete on the open market, because I would say quite frankly that I tend to be a free trader in these matters. I think that in future we shall need to consider more precise categories of material and to differentiate between literary work, where I believe that we should have a liberal policy, and historic documents in their widest sense, which are probably best kept here. But how should we do this without impinging on the rights of owners and collectors in other countries?
Various suggestions have been made in recent years. Five years ago the Reviewing Committee recommended that control should be extended to include modern material worth more than £10,000, although the manuscripts of professional authors were to be excluded unless they had held high office or written on current political subjects; and living persons would remain free to dispose of their papers as they wished. I am sure that is right. In fact I believe that some authors, particularly poets, get more for selling their manuscripts than from the sale of their books.
These recommendations were not accepted by my noble friend Lady Lee of Asheridge when she was Minister. Instead she set up an inter-Departmental Working Party. The Working Party's Green Paper, to which the noble Lord referred, took a much more protectionist view. It recommended that control should be extended to all documents over 30 years old and over £25 only in value. A further recommendation was that copies of exported material should be deposited here and made available for public inspection after only seven years, which would, of course, have given rise to many difficulties, because an author might sell some of his youthful work which he did not want published, say to an American library, with an embargo that it should not be published or seen until after his death; 801 and there would be people who would be able to go to the British Museum and see it after only seven years. This would cause great difficulty and obviously the whole scheme is unworkable.
I cite these two examples as two attempts, one by the Reviewing Committee and the other by the Department, to find a formula, the one based on a value of £10,000, the other on a value of £25 and a very short 30 year period; short enough, may I say, to include even a living author's early work. The last two Reports of the Reviewing Committee recommended that control over modern documents should be restricted to those of historical interest. In both Reports the Committee urged the Government to appoint a small independent committee of inquiry to investigate the whole system of control with particular reference to modern historical archives. This recommendation is, I believe, supported by the Reviewing Committee's Advisory Council which is, of course, drawn from all sides, including the antiquarian trade as well as archivists. I should like to ask the Paymaster General whether he intends to follow these recommendations, made now in several Reports, and to set un an independent committee, as I think that it is time to have a fresh look at the problem which clearly is controversial, and I think needs a separate and rather special examination.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ LORD COTTESLOE
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, has raised this matter in your Lordships' House, and in a notably thoughtful and well-informed speech of great interest. The control over the export of manuscripts is one that presents peculiar difficulty. The Waverley Committee themselves, who more than 20 years ago drew up the framework of the present system of control over the export of works of art of all kinds, including manuscripts, documents and archives, discovered that. Lord Waverley, as I have been told, amended the final draft of his Committee's Report to meet the points raised by the member of his Committee who was an expert on matters of historical documents, in order that the Report should be unanimous, only to find that it was still unacceptable to the scholar and that it had to be accompanied by a Minority Report.
802 At present, the control over manuscripts, documents and archives is operated by the Reviewing Committee, of which I should perhaps say I was the chairman for a good many years, as a part of the general control, and under the same system as that for works of art, with some variations. Until recently, there was an age limit for manuscripts as for works of art generally, of 100 years, below which they could be freely exported. There was, however, no limit of value, and all manuscripts more than a century old were subject to the licensing control; but reputable dealers could obtain a bulk licence which enabled them to export documents at their discretion up to a limit of value of £50 without applying for a licence if they were not of national interest or value. Last year, my noble friend the Paymaster General reduced the age limit to 70 years and increased the bulk licence figure to £100, changes that were generally felt by scholars, on the one hand, and by the trade, on the other, to be steps in the right direction, though steps that did not go very far. He has since also earmarked for manuscripts, documents and archives £30,000 of the annual grant made available for aid to purchases by local collections, and that is a most welcome provision. I hope that when my noble friend comes to reply he may be able to tell us what he envisages as the machinery for its allocation.
In applying the existing control the Reviewing Committee have always been conscious of the importance of distinguishing between the national value of original documents themselves and the value of their contents, and they have very generally felt themselves able to agree to the export of manuscripts on condition that microfilms or other copies were retained in this country available (generally after some period of time) for scholars to work on. Where such things as the only known letter in the handwriting of Richard Burton, the author of The Anatomy of Melancholy, or the only known poem in John Donne's own hand, were concerned, to take two examples, they insisted on the retention of the original manuscript.
There has, however, long been a demand from scholars that more recent archives should be covered by the control, a demand that the reduction in the 803 age limit does not go very far to meet. This raises problems of great difficulty. It is not so much a matter of purely literary material that is involved, though there are scholars who feel strongly that manuscripts of recent English writers (and I do not exclude by that word the Scots, the Irish or the Welsh, but "British" might not be the right word in this context) should never leave this country. After all, the works of the great poets and the great authors (the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, referred to George Eliot) are in a very real sense not so much national as international possessions; and as travel over the earth's surface becomes easier and more rapid, the context in which they can be studied becomes more important than the place. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has referred to the fact that any scholar who is studying Boswell must go to Yale, where the great mass of Boswell manuscrips from Malahide is to be found; and it would be generally agreed that Yale would be the proper repository for any further manuscripts of Boswell papers that might be unexpectedly discovered.
But, my Lords, when it comes to the modern historical archives, in which modern historians are so rightly interested, the matter is different. The Churchill papers are mercifully safe; but there is a great mass of archives of British historical importance that ought to remain within these shores that are in a real sense, even though they may be in private hands, a national possession: just as the Orleans papers, recently disinterred from the vaults of Coutt's Bank, in, if I remember aright, 140-odd boxes, were felt to be a national possession of France, and exported to repose, though still in private ownership, in the French national archives. That was clearly right. As the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, pointed out, the 70-year limit does not bring in the material that relates to those great and crucial periods of our national history, the two World Wars and the intervening years. The age limit to cover them should be not three-quarters, but one-quarter of a century.
But the impostion of such a limit would create great problems. No one would, I think, wish to control any man's right 804 to the disposal of his own papers during his own lifetime while they are in his own possession. And so short an age limit as 25 years would also create difficulties with the law of copyright—difficulties that might not be insuperable, and it might be right to face them. Unless a high value limit were set on archives covered by the control, with a short age limit, a vast mass of material, most of it of no great value or interest, would be brought under scrutiny and would create quite disproportionate administrative problems. A high value limit could be a quite powerful incentive towards dismemberment of archives, which is one of the things that all scholars, above all, would wish to avoid. Indeed, in my view, the two overriding objectives of any system should properly be, first, the preservation of the sanctity of archives, as opposed to their piecemeal disposal; and secondly, to ensure the ready accessibility of historical material.
There are great difficulties, and no one, I think, really knows the answers to these problems. I do not really believe that the ingenious solution suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, would do. I myself would go for an age limit of 25 or 30 years, with a high value limit, not as a perfect solution, but as the least objectionable of alternatives, but of course with an exemption for a man's own papers during his lifetime. In recent years, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has said, a strong committee, under the chairmanship of Dr. Esmond de Beer, put forward a solution that was too limited to be generally acceptable; and subsequently, a strong inter-departmental Working Party propounded a system that was almost universally felt to go much too far the other way. What is quite certain is that no system which is proposed will satisfy everyone—on the one hand, those scholars who maintain that nothing should ever be exported and, on the other hand, those members of the trade who think there should be no control. But between these extremes there is a great body of opinion that some solution is necessary and urgent and that, while no solution can hope to satisfy everyone, it should not be beyond the wit of man to find one that would be generally accepted as reasonable by scholars and the trade alike. I hope profoundly that that may be so.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ THE PAYMASTER GENERAL (VISCOUNT ECCLEs)
My Lords, I should like to begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Sudeley on compressing into a comparatively short speech the whole of the protectionist argument for increasing the control over manuscripts and documents in a way which would have done credit to the greatest lawyer in the land. But of course he must realise, if only from the speeches made by the other two noble Lords who have spoken tonight, that there is great controversy here. The reason why. taking this Question at its face value, I shall have to answer "No", is because over many years now the Government and officials have examined this matter and have consulted over and over again the main interested parties. At no time has it been possible to come anywhere near a really agreed reconciliation between the interests of the two sides. For that reason, it seemed to me that we should not go on having inquiry after inquiry and that it would be better to do what I could at once and take a step or two nearer to the position of the protectionists while at the same time not endangering the operation of the whole system. It may be that the new arrangements will be shown to have flaws. If that is so, they could be identified and put right: but only time will tell.
It seemed to me, listening to the three noble Lords who have spoken that it might be of some advantage to the House if I very briefly described what the control now is, because certainly my noble friend Lord Sudeley made one or two quite important omissions. First of all, all documentary and photographic material is subject to export licence if it is over 70 years old. That of course is a reduction from the previous age limit of 100 years. Secondly, specific licences are required for each export of material which is over 70 years old, however low the value, unless the export is made by the small number of dealers who hold bulk licences—there are in fact under 20 of these. Thirdly, bulk licence holders can export items individually not exceeding £100 in value, provided they apply for specific licences for those items which they recognise as being of national importance.
806 Your Lordships will see that we trust the trade in this matter and we have very good reason to think that our trust is justified. Indeed, many of the things which my noble friends behind me said about the trade are, in my opinion, quite unjustified. I will refer further to that point in a moment. Fourthly, the provision of a copy of a document may be required as a condition of export. It is quite clear that we do not want copies of all documents that are exported: indeed, only quite a modest number are involved. Therefore our experts, mainly drawn from the British Museum, tell us when they think a copy should be made. Such copies are then deposited with the British Museum (in future it will be the British Library) and are available to scholars after an interval of seven years.
Naturally, this control does not seem stringent enough to those who want all important manuscripts and documents which are more than 25 or 30 years old to pass a scrutiny before export; but there are certain compelling reasons why a tighter control would be both unfair and unworkable—and it is the unworkable part that really matters. The first point is that we are dealing with very small objects, objects which can be very easily exported. You have only to put such an object in an envelope and post it at the post office, or to put it in your briefcase as you walk on to the aircraft or ship. No one is going to ask you to open it. It is impossible at the point of export to expect Customs officials to make a valuation of a manuscript. It therefore follows that if any control—whether it be the sort of control that my noble friend wants or whether it be what the most liberal-minded person wants—is to be effective we must have the co-operation of the owners and of the trade which deals in these manuscripts.
As I said before, inquiries over at least the last ten years have shown that the interests of the owners and the trade cannot be reconciled with the interests of historians and other users of the documents we have in mind. So clear has this become that it is the reason why I am not going to set up another independent inquiry which. as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, mentioned, was asked for in the report of the reviewing committee. I have myself talked to both sides on 807 many occasions, and they are irreconcilable. We have struck as good a compromise as we can, knowing that whatever was decided we had to have the goodwill of the trade or else the control would not work.
Your Lordships will realise that if a document which has an international market is declared not to be exportable from the United Kingdom, this prohibition will reduce its value in money terms, because it can then be sold only to a restricted set of buyers: those within this country. No one would prohibit an artist from exporting his work—I have never heard anyone suggest that that should be done however old the artist might be. We consider that the same freedom should be allowed for an author's manuscripts, his private papers, letters, diaries and other modern documents. It is for that reason that I fixed upon the limit of 70 years, because I thought that that was just about right, say, for Bertrand Russell, and even if it is not right for him I think we ought to look after the widow. It is a reasonable limit, because a man's only assets may be his manuscripts; and what right have we to cut their value arbitrarily down? These things represent the fruit of his own genius and his own work.
It has also been suggested that if we allow documents of a lower age to be exported whilst insisting each time that a copy should be taken, to be made available to scholars at once, that would meet the case. But the making of the copy also reduces the value of the manuscript. I have personal experience of this. I can tell your Lordships of a manuscript which was sold at an auction here for £10,000, and later published in America. Three or four years later it was resold at the same auction room here in London for £4,000. That is the effect of publication upon a manuscript, and if we insisted on copies being available to all and sundry, directly they were made available we should be also cutting the value of the particular item.
The noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, said that manuscripts are sometimes not available when they reach the United States. I have not had much time to look into that matter but I asked one or two people about it and, on the whole, American libraries treat our scholars very 808 well. It is rare that one is not allowed to look at their collections. It is certainly true that we allow American scholars to search our libraries in this country; and scholars are very good to one another once you get there. If I am right in thinking that the control itself is so difficult to operate, and if I am equally right in thinking that it is not the business of a Government arbitrarily to reduce the value of a man's property, then of course the way to proceed is to introduce positive incentives to keep the manuscripts and records of importance in this country. It is for that reason that we have taken two steps which we believe are going to secure for our libraries many documents which might otherwise slip out of the country.
Perhaps I may be allowed to describe what we are doing. If Parliament passes the Finance Bill, which is now in another place, the result will be as follows: first, exemptions from estate duty will continue to encourage private owners not to part with their important manuscripts and documents. Secondly, pre-eminent documents and collections of documents—this is new and important—can be accepted by the Treasury in lieu of estate duty and allocated to national, local authority or university collections. We intend to treat documents on exactly the same footing as works of art.
Thirdly, as soon as the Finance Bill is enacted the Treasury will issue a statement giving the details of the valuable new concessions. I have little doubt that we shall soon see a great increase in the flow of offers of all kinds of important objects. I say that with confidence, because even before the details— and certainly they are difficult to understand—have been set before owners, solicitors and others interested, the flow of objects under this new provision is going at something like the rate per month of what it was per year before the concession was first broached. Fourthly, to back up the tax concessions we have set up a fund of £30,000 to which noble Lords have referred. From that fund grants can be given up to 50 per cent. of the cost of manuscripts and documents offered on the market. The library concerned need only find 25 per cent. of the money from its own resources; it can get the other 25 per cent. from charitable 809 foundations, and so on. Photographs are, for the first time, eligible for grants of this kind.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, asked me how the fund was going to operate. We have—and I am sure he would approve of this—asked the Reviewing Committee to set up a sub-committee of experts. There are two sub-committees working. They are giving us advice on how this fund should be operated, because obviously it requires a considerable amount of time and expert knowledge to establish the priorities between what I hope will be a large number of applications. The fund is only a start. I thought it better to get this off the ground and established; but we may find that £30,000, which in effect means £60,000 worth of these records a year, will prove to be too little, in which case I have no doubt a future Government will look at it again.
There is an important point about these funds where I have a feeling I am at variance with by noble friend Lord Sudeley. It seemed to me that he thought that if the Government provided money to buy manuscripts, one obvious result would he that everyone would want to sell and prices would go up on the market. It is our view that in the past, because so many librarians, particularly in local authority institutions, had little or no money to spend, they did not go scouting around to discover what documents and what manuscripts—maybe prints or photographs—were available in private hands that would be of interest to their institution. Many have said to me, as I have been round the country, "Once we know we are going to get this money and we can go to our councillors and say, 'The Government are going to put up 50 per cent.', we shall be encouraged to go and look out for these things." Noble Lords who know the library system in this country will know that there are certain librarians who are extremely good at nosing out material. Liverpool is an obvious example. This material is of real interest to libraries for their city collections. Yet there are others where, I regret to say, it appears that very little is being done.
My noble friend asked whether we could have a national register. Presum 810 ably this would be something which would be published and one would say, "Nothing on this register is ever going to be exported". I assume that would be the case. This is the same situation as arises with the masterpieces of painting that are in private hands. We are always being asked to get the galleries concerned to publish a list. I do not think that would be at all useful. I should not want to see, as it were, a list of prohibited items. My noble friend made an interesting suggestion that we should look into the Scottish practice, where they can, as it were, get hold of public records, and we do not have that in England. There is a difficulty of definition of what a "public record" is, but I will look at that because it has certain interesting possibilities.
My Lords, all I can say in conclusion is that we are as anxious as anyone else as far as we can to see that our historical documents and our documents that are of interest either from the point of view of literature or any other point of view are kept in this country. We think that the main instrument will he better information about where these documents are still in private hands and more money to buy them. I have set out on that road. As for the strictness and effectiveness of the control of licensinterests of owners and trade, on one ing, we cannot ever expect to reconcile the hand, and historians and researchers, on the other; but it is a fact of overwhelming importance that we do have the good will of the trade today. These little objects could not be kept in this country by any other means than having the good will of the trade. Several times when I was being asked to strengthen the control in an attempt to make it watertight, I could not help remembering those remarkable words by the abbess of a Carmelite convent, who said:Ce n'est pas la règle qui nous garde mais nous qui gardens la règle.