HL Deb 16 May 1988 vol 497 cc1-4

Lord St. John of Fawsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their proposals for the future of the British Library.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, the Government will continue to support the British Library as a national and international centre of excellence. Like other arts bodies, it can now plan on the basis of firm three-year funding. The Government are also providing a splendid new building at St. Pancras.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that partially encouraging Answer. Is she aware of the great anxiety that has been caused by press reports stating that the new building is not to be completed but is to be scrapped at some stage? Can she reiterate that it remains government policy that all parts of the British Library will be accommodated in one building and under one roof? Can she also bring us up to date as to the future of the reading room at the British Museum, because to lose that room and not gain a unified building will be to have the worst of all worlds?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the British Library currently occupies 19 buildings around London, including the British Museum. Transport from the out-stations to Bloomsbury causes damage to books and delays to readers. In addition, the library needs four miles of extra shelf space each year. The stages approved by the Government will provide air-conditioned storage for the collections, reading rooms for rare books and manuscripts and open-access reading rooms for the Science, Reference and Information Service.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that this great project, the concept of which we owe to two Conservative arts Ministers—the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley—will not suffer damaging cuts through financial parsimony by the present Government?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, despite the very cross face of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, I should like to thank him for the compliments he paid to my noble friends on this side of the House. It was always planned to look at the project in stages: the first is now well under construction. In December, in the light of the review of the library's current requirement, my right honourable friend in another place commissioned a feasibility study for completing the building so that the key requirements of the library are met at the minimum additional cost. We want the best value for the library user and the taxpayer.

Lord Quinton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some of the trouble lying behind the Question of my noble friend Lord St. John is generated by peculiarities in the nomenclature with regard to the design? It is a little like the situation in 1905 when the Russian fleet sailed to Japan under the title of the "Second Pacific Squadron" when it was all a workable part of the Russian fleet. I hope that it is not a precedent for future developments of the library. The point is that there are three main stages in the original plan—

Noble Lords


Lord Quinton

My Lords, I am asking the noble Baroness a question. Does she realise that the stages are named in such a way that it appears much has been extinguished when in fact little has?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the requirements of phase one had to be modified in the light of technological and demographic changes; hence the need to look again at the design of the last part of phase one. The objective of phase one is to satisfy the library's key requirements and will conclude the construction for the foreseeable future. However, I agree with my noble friend that the words "phase one" cover a multitude of aspects of the building.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, it all sounds very good, listening to the Minister. Can she tell the House how quickly a decision will be reached on the completion stage once the feasibility study is completed? I understand that if the work were speeded up, the building could be completed by 1995 with great economy of cost and improvement in services. Secondly, can she assure the House that the Government will not dispose of the land behind the new building at St. Pancras after completion of the first stage in 1993? Although that may be tempting, it would be improvident and short sighted.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, in reply to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, I cannot answer about the land, and I shall write to her. The first stage, which was started in 1982, should be completed in 1993. The British Library will begin to occupy parts of the building in 1991. Completion stage (the subject of the feasibility study) may be finished as early as 1996.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, I apologise for troubling my noble friend further, but she let slip a word about new designs. If there are to be new designs for this building, perhaps I may humbly request that the Royal Fine Art Commission has the opportunity to look at them.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am aware that the Royal Fine Art Commission was consulted in the original instance. However, the plans are still at the feasibility study stage. When findings and proposals have been put to Ministers, consideration can be given to obtaining approval for any revision of design.

I did not answer my noble friend's question concerning the reading room at the British Museum. My right honourable friend in another place has commissioned a study to consider and report in conjunction with the trustees of the British Museum whether suitable economic arrangements can be established once the British Library has vacated the museum.

Lord Ironside

My Lords, can my noble friend assure the House that the new science, reference and information service reading rooms will be open on schedule in December 1992; and, in order to do that, that the moving of books to fill the 300 kilometres of shelf space will begin in 1991?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the stock will begin to be moved in 1992. The reading rooms are likely to open in mid-1993. That will enable the SRIS to vacate its present sites, with the exception of some closed access storage at Micawber Street, N.1.

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