HL Deb 12 May 1988 vol 496 cc1216-9

3.8 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, owing to the illness of my noble friend Lord Russell (who has succumbed to the current epidemic) and at his request, I ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will reconsider the arrangements for financing university libraries which contain rare books and manuscript collections of national importance.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Hooper)

My Lords, the University Grants Committee already makes special provision for the copyright libraries at Oxford and Cambridge within its resource allocation. The committee, however, intends to review its special factor provision for libraries later this year.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer which I anticipated with striking accuracy. Is she aware that the grants as at present administered are on a strict ratio per head of undergraduates at the university, with no reference to the holdings of the libraries or their manuscripts or books which need special preservation measures? The Question asked whether the Government were considering any changes, and as the UGC under the Education Reform Bill will become something quite different for which the Government are very much more responsible at their own desire and request, may I once again ask the noble Baroness whether she can give any encouragement and hope to museums, so that museums such as the Bodleian or the Cambridge University Library, which have enormously expensive and valuable collections which are deteriorating at this moment, can be helped?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I have no doubt that the review will take these factors into consideration. It would not be proper for me to pre-empt the conclusions of that review.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, when the review is taking place, will the Minister take into account the endowments that many of the older institutions have compared with the newer institutions which are not so fortunate?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords. Universities are, after all, autonomous institutions, and it is not axiomatic that all their costs should be met by the taxpayer.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the autonomy of a university or anything else is seriously inhibited if it has immediate duties which must be looked after, yet it is not given the money to do it?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, all universities have some items of expenditure which could be regarded as out of the ordinary, but the UGC is prepared on current practice to make a special factor allowance, but only in the most exceptional circumstances.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, will my noble friend consider as a possibility for Great Britain the American system whereby people receive enormous sums of money by way of tax reimbursement for that purpose?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I believe that that has already been considered and no doubt it will be an element in the review.

Lord Fletcher

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a large number of books and rare manuscripts of considerable historical importance are housed in museums and not in university buildings? I refer both to national, such as the former British Museum, now the British Library, and to local museums. Will the Minister ensure that similar financial facilities are available to those which have collections of valuable manuscripts and books?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we are aware of the distinction, but the Question on the Order Paper focuses especially on the financing of university libraries.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Oxford and Cambridge are not the only universities in Britain? Is she aware that, for example, the University of Durham has a large collection of extremely valuable books and manuscripts of national importance? Will she bear that in mind? Incidentally, if the noble Baroness would like to visit the university I should be happy to arrange that.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments and for his invitation.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, is the Minister aware that when there is insufficient financing to keep the books in good condition, universities are encouraged to sell some of them, as happened at the Rylands Library at Manchester University?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, yes, and I believe that the matter was discussed on another occasion. We are aware of the factors attaching to the sale of books in the Rylands collection. I should like to reiterate the fact that the sales were of second copies of books in that collection.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, arising from the noble Baroness's question, is the Minister not aware that the so-called "second copies" were not duplicates? In most cases they were the better copies which were taken by the auction house to sell and they reached very high prices. However, there was a small escape clause in the original contract with Mrs. Rylands. It was envisaged by those who witnessed it at the time, and who have since written to the press, that that was only to enable duplicate runs of magazines and periodicals to be sold. In no way was it envisaged that Grolier bindings and items of national importance were to be sold in order to keep going financially.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, my understanding is that the bequest made an express provision that books may be sold, exchanged or otherwise disposed of.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that there are attached to many libraries—and there ought to be attached to all libraries—various charities, such as the Friends of the Bodleian, to which generous donations are always welcome?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for that contribution. It is a point that we should all bear in mind.