HC Deb 15 March 1982 vol 20 cc16-7
21. Mr. Peter Bottomley

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress is being made on the construction of the new British Library.

Mr. Channon

The first contract for work on the new British Library building was awarded last month. The contractors plan to begin work on the site immediately after Easter.

Mr. Bottomley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his reply will be welcomed by enthusiasts of the project? When does he expect the first phase to be completed?

Mr. Channon

The phases are divided into many separate sub-phases and groupings. After the preliminary work we shall start phase 1A(a) in the autumn. That will cost about £88 million and will take several years to complete. The process is long and complicated, but we are pressing ahead as rapidly as possible.

Mr. Dalyell

Does the Minister agree with the estimate of £600 million over a 10-year period?

Mr. Channon

No, I do not think that I agree with that. The project is enormously complicated and expensive. It will have to be revised from time to time as circumstances change. "One step enough for me" should be our motto. This is sensible and has met with general approval throughout the House.

Mr. Viggers

As far as the building itself is concerned, did my right hon. Friend notice the comment of a critic, prompted by the buildings at the National Theatre and the Barbican who said "When I hear the word 'culture' I call for my concrete-mixer". Can my right hon. Friend explain why it is necessary for the cultural muses to be pursued in buildings of such spectacular ugliness?

Mr. Channon

If my hon. Friend lives long enough to see the British Library completed, I hope that he will not think that it is a building of spectacular ugliness. I think that it will be quite a nice building. It is extraordinary that Britain has not made a start on building a new library before. We are way behind the Library of Congress, for example. It is generally recognised to be of great importance.