§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Annan asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether they consider that the bequest by George Bernard Shaw in his will to the British Museum has been used, as it should have been, primarily for the benefit of the British Library.
My Lords, the George Bernard Shaw bequest has been used partly for the benefit of the British Museum Library, and also since 1973 for the benefit of the British Library. However, decisions on the use of the bequest are the responsibility of the trustees of the British Museum.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for that Answer. I know that he is aware that the administrators of Bernard Shaw's will of course have passed the receipts from the royalties, in particular augmented by those from "My Fair Lady", to the British Museum, in accordance with Shaw's will which said that he left the bequest in gratitude for his days in the Reading Room of the British Museum. The noble Viscount is also aware that on 17th December 1959 Sir Edward Boyle, the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, gave an undertaking to Parliament that the proceeds from the Shaw fund would be used primarily for the benefit of the British Library.
Is the noble Viscount aware that the sum which has been received from the administrators of the Shaw estate now totals some £3 million? If that sum continues to be invested by the trustees in the very sagacious way in which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, invested those funds when he was chairman of the British Museum trustees, it would now amount to £10 million or £15 million. Does not the noble Viscount consider it odd that the British Library has only received about £480,000 from this fund? Does he not consider it even odder—
§ Lord Annan
Does he not consider it odd that the accounts of the fund appear to be privy to the British Museum and that the British Library has never seen them?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, is right that Sir Edward Boyle, the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told another place that trustees had decided, first, to use the Shaw money to build up a capital fund and, secondly, in due course to use the income from the fund primarily for the benefit of the library. At the time the British Library did not exist. It did not come into being until 14 years later in 1973.
The noble Lord is also right that the income since 1958 of the Shaw bequest has been just over £3 million, and in recent years it has been running at about £120,000 per annum. Grants have been made by 381 the British Museum trustees to the British Library of £400,000. They also have used money from the bequest for the benefit of the British Museum.
§ Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that in terms of parliamentary procedure it is unusual for a Question to affirm an expression of opinion? The words "as it should have been" which appear on the Order Paper are very much open to question. Speaking as a trustee of the British Museum, but not for the trustees, perhaps I may ask the Minister to confirm that the Shaw bequest in relation to the museum was unrestricted in its purposes. Furthermore, does he agree that the British Library Act 1972, when the British Library and the British Museum were, so to speak, divorced, made no specific provision for the transfer of trust funds to the British Library?
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Renfrew is correct. The British Library Act 1972 made no provision for the transfer of trust funds or other moneys to the British Library. The trustees received legal advice that they were not empowered under the British Museum Act 1963 to make such a transfer. Those British Museum trust funds to which donors have attached specific conditions in favour of library departments were transferred to the British Library in 1976 and 1983 under the scheme of the Charity Commissioners.
I must also point out that the Shaw bequest was a private bequest and did not involve public funds.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, how much of Shaw's bequest has been used by the British Museum trustees for purposes other than the library? Why do not the BM trustees allow the British Library to see the Shaw fund accounts? Why all the secrecy?
My Lords, the second part of the noble Baroness's question is a matter for the trustees of the British Museum. Money spent by the British Museum since 1973 is part of a large pool of expenditure made by them and separate figures are not available. However, I shall draw the noble Baroness's remarks to the attention of the trustees of the British Museum to see whether they can make the figures available.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Waddington)
My Lords, I do not like having to restore order in this way but perhaps my noble friend may be allowed to ask his question.
§ Viscount Eccles
My Lords, with great help from the first Viscount Boyd of Merton I managed this fund during the 1960s. We greatly increased its capital. We were always willing to receive requests for grant from the library because we knew that it was a part of the British Museum which Mr. Shaw used more than any other. May I appeal to my noble friend on the Front 382 Bench to use his influence with the Minister for the Arts to persuade the trustees to provide £75,000 or whatever the sum, to buy Ellen Terry's letters? I understand that they have refused, although that would have been Mr. Shaw's first request.
My Lords, I shall certainly pass on my noble friend's remarks to the trustees of the British Museum, one of whom is sitting behind him.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, I do not know whether this is pre-election fever or what, but I must again arbitrate. I invite the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, to ask a question.
§ Lord Jenkins of Hillhead
My Lords, do not the somewhat convoluted facts here revealed suggest that the only way fully to carry out the desires of George Bernard Shaw is to keep the Round Reading Room, which apart from anything else has unique qualities as a reading room associated with the British Library?
My Lords, as noble Lords know, it is intended that in the future the Round Reading Room will be used for the library of the British Museum. Perhaps I may quote what was said in 1959 by Mr. Emrys Hughes, the Member for South Ayrshire in another place. He said that George Bernard Shaw:had a great affection for the Reading Room of the British Museum, because when he did not have much money he went there not merely to read books but for warmth".—[Official Report, Commons. 17/12/59; col. 1754.]
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that the diminishing number of us who knew personally, however slightly, George Bernard Shaw, as he unfailing called himself, will have no hesitation at all in agreeing with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that Shaw was a library man rather than a museum man? Therefore, I hope that his wishes will be respected in that regard.
My Lords, in my previous answer I pointed out that the George Bernard Shaw bequest was for the British Library but that he also had great affection for the Round Reading Room.
§ Lord Wardington
My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware—I beg your Lordships' pardon, but I am not a regular attender in the House. However, I had to come along today to speak on the subject because I am—
§ Lord Wardington
My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that I am the chairman of the Friends of the British Library? As such I have come along to make a statement—
§ Lord Wardington
My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships. I may come to the House in a different context at a later date as regards the subject of the British Library. Until that time I shall sit down.
My Lords, I am happy that my noble friend made us all aware of his connection with the British Library.