§ 2.37 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ECCLES rose to call attention to the decision of Her Majesty's Government to abandon the Bloomsbury site for the building of the new Library for the British Museum; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the Motion to which I rise to speak calls attention to the Government's decision not to build a new Library for the British Museum on the Great Russell Street site. As your Lordships may imagine, the Trustees much hoped that their Chairman, my noble and learned friend Lord Radcliffe, would open this debate. But he has scarcely recovered from a severe illness, and we are very fortunate that he feels able to intervene at a later point in our discussions. I wish to say that, supposing his doctor's orders do not allow him to stay until the end of our discussion, we shall understand and wish him complete recovery.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Hear, hear!
§ VISCOUNT ECCLES
It often happens that a man or an institution enjoys simultaneously two quite different reputations. This is so with the British Museum. Among scholars our credit stands very high. Learned societies and famous men in the arts and the sciences have been shocked by the substance and the manner of the Government's decision concerning the Library. They have come forward to testify to their regard for the Museum and to their concern that the Library may be broken up or, if not actually dismembered, in any event separated from the collections. The Standing Commission on Museums, who represent the views of the Provinces as well as London, and who under the Act should have been consulted and were not, have also registered a strong protest in a letter to the Prime Minister.
But at the other end of the scale of reputation, what kind of regard does the Museum enjoy among Her Majesty's present Ministers and their officials? It has been a matter of astonishment to discover how little these eminent persons 1115 appreciate what the Museum stands for in the eyes of educated people, and not least in other countries. I sometimes wonder whether they are as familiar with the sculptures in Bloomsbury as they are with the waxworks in Madame Tussaud's.
It may be that in the past the Museum authorities concentrated so much on scholarship that they forgot to blow the Museum's trumpet in that wider world where support is now essential to any institution in need of large sums of public money. If so, this situation changed with the appointment of the present Trustees under the Act of 1963. The new body have had constantly in mind their duty to manage the Museum both for scholars and for the general public. In the Report which they issued this summer, they concluded their description of the Museum as follows:There is thus to be found within it an assembly of treasures which has made it the resort of scholars and visitors from all the world. But for the worthy utilisation and display of these treasures to suit to-day's requirements in terms both of scholarship and of popular display, there has been generated a pressure for enlarged accommodation, a need for increased staff and a call for more money for certain classes of acquisitions which the Museum's existing resources are altogether insufficient to meet.Lack of funds has crippled the development of the Museum, and especially of the Library. I am not saying that we have had no increases in our budget. Of course, we are grateful for small mercies. From time to time there have been additions to meet rising costs, or even to try to bring the staff somewhat nearer their authorised complement. But funds for building work have been far short of what is needed. Even in 1967, although the collections were bound to grow every year, some of the severe war damage has not yet been made good. The restaurant is a disgrace to London, and in gallery space we are not yet back to where we were thirty years ago.
Why has our greatest Museum fared so badly? Why does its reputation, so high among scholars, stand so low among Ministers and their officials? One reason could be that the present body of Trustees are not a body whose authority and experience deserve to be treated with respect. In justice to my colleagues, I feel bound to say a word on this delicate question.
1116 The Act of 1963 lays down the composition and the functions of the Trustees. They are not an advisory body, as is the case with the Victoria and Albert Museum. The British Museum Trustees are given the duty of managing the Museum; a duty which involves them, and particularly their Chairman, in continuous and heavy work. They supervise the business of all the departments and the Library; they sanction new acquisitions and loans to exhibitions; they plan, in conjunction with the Ministry of Public Building and Works, many structural, decorative and display operations; they invest very large endowment sums; they publish a steady stream of books, monographs and catalogues; they appoint the senior staff; and they continually review future policy.
The Act directs the Trustees to perform these duties within certain limits, of which one in particular is crucial for the future of the Library. Section 3 of the Act says:… it shall be the duty of the Trustees of the British Museum to keep the objects comprised in the collections of the Museum within the authorised repositories of the Museum".That, then, is their statutory duty. Further words in the same section permit the Trustees temporarily to place parts of the collection outside the authorised repositories if they—that is, if the Trustees and not a Minister—consider it expedient to do so.
Schedule 3 to the Act defines the authorised repositories as so much of the site in London as was in occupation at the commencement of the Act, together with the site in Colindale Avenue. Your Lordships will notice that the Act says that the Trustees must not outhouse parts of the collection—for example, the ethnological collection—unless they think it right to do so. The decision is theirs and theirs alone. If they think it wrong, as indeed they do, to break up the Library or to separate the Library from the collections, the Act upholds their judgment.
An example of how the Act works can be seen in what has happened to the National Reference Library for Science and Invention. For years the former Trustees were frustrated by the delays and niggardliness of previous Governments in finding accommodation for this growing section of scientific material, not to mention the disgraceful shilly-shallying 1117 over the Patent Office Library. The position grew so desperate that the Trustees decided to gather together part of the material in temporary premises in Bayswater—admittedly very unsatisfactory, but the Trustees had a right to do this under the Act. The Whiteley building cannot possibly be a permanent home for these books and journals, which I must remind your Lordships are the property of the British Museum and are held for the nation by the Trustees. The Government cannot touch them. No Minister has any power to move a single volume from Bloomsbury to Bayswater, or from either place to some other place.
What then are we to think of the expressed intention of the Secretary of State for Education and Science that, on advice given him by a new Committee—the Dainton Committee—he will do what he likes with the books of the British Museum Library? I think we must assume that Mr. Gordon Walker had not been advised that, to do what he likes with any part of the Museum Library, he must secure either a new Act of Parliament or a new body of Trustees. Both courses, one would imagine, must appear to the Government highly controversial, and both must take more time than I suppose the Government have yet reckoned. In the meantime, what worries us is that the Library will go from bad to worse. I believe that Ministers now realise that the position under the Act is as I have described it, and therefore I feel entitled to press the noble Baroness to tell us which are the Government now aiming at—new legislation or new Trustees.
That brings me to the present body of Trustees. Six of us are to address your Lordships in this debate, so we can hardly be accused of keeping our thoughts to ourselves. The noble Marquess, Lord Cambridge, and my noble friend Lord Crawford and Balcarres are also Trustees. Both these noble Lords have long experience of museums. The noble Lord, Lord Florey, a distinguished scientist, is also a Trustee; and he regrets that he cannot be in his place this afternoon to support his colleagues. The other Trustees are Sir Kenneth Clark, Sir William Hayter, Sir Thomas Monnington, Dame Mary Smieton, Sir Richard Thompson, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, Dr. Boase, Professor Emcleus, Professor Wormald and 1118 Miss Kathleen Kenyon. It is for your Lordships to judge whether the Trustees possess between them a sufficient deposit of experience, and a sufficient love and knowledge of books and the Arts, to produce plans for the future of the Library which any Government might be expected to respect and, further, which any Government might be expected to accept unless they themselves could produce, and argue convincingly with the Trustees, an alternative plan. This, of course, they have not done.
Now what has made the present position so much worse than it need be is the way the Government talk as though the statutory position of the Trustees and their experience in the fields of education and management of museums counted for nothing. Already some universities and other learned societies are beginning to say, "If the Government treat the British Museum in this way, how soon will it be our turn?". My Lords, it is relevant to add here that when the Trustees put forward considered proposals they do so knowing that they possess an exceptional advantage. They can draw on the experience of the Museum staff, whose knowledge of books and the use which is made of them is recognised to be of the highest order, not only in this country but all over the world.
There is here a point of substance. The expertise required to handle and develop such a great Library is in the staff and the Trustees of the Museum. No equivalent expertise is to be found in any Government Department. It is quite clear from the terms of the Act of 1963 that Parliament were very well aware of this fact, and that is why they gave the powers to the Trustees. Nevertheless, the providers of the funds are the Government, and so they will always have the means to bring the development of the Museum to a standstill. This is the consequence of the expertise being in one place and the money being in another place; and such a situation is bound to lead to trouble unless there is a good understanding and continuous collaboration between the two partners. All cultural institutions financed by public funds have this problem, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, who is to speak later, will give us the benefit of his great experience in this field.
1119 To return to the Trustees, all of us would testify to the lack of consultation which has been imposed upon us by the Government. I do not think we can all be wrong over this. The Government spokesmen will be wasting their time if they try to convince the House that their right honourable friends have behaved well to the British Museum. It would be much better to forget the past and look to the future. Therefore, I ask noble Lords who are to speak for the Government to tell us whether they consider the Trustees are competent to discharge their duties under the Act. If they do not think so, very well, then the deadlock will continue and grow worse. If they do think we are competent, then will they begin to collaborate with us in the manner in which we have all along wished to collaborate with them?
Now I turn to the Museum Library, which most people look on as the National Library, because that is what it is. The Trustees do not think of the Library as a private treasure-house to be kept at arm's length from all other libraries. If anyone is likely to be concerned about the rapid growth in the number of books and in the demands of readers, it is those who manage the British Museum Library. They see, from the vantage point of being in charge of the nation's central stock of books, prints, drawings and manuscripts, how the specialist and other libraries cannot cater for all the requirements of readers and research workers. Every morning at 10 o'clock men and women are there in the forecourt of the British Museum because they cannot find anywhere else what they want to read; and the Trustes have for a long time been clear that these demands upon the Museum Library were increasing much faster than we could possibly cope with them unless we had a new building.
Therefore, the Trustees and the Library staff have given thought to a reform in the structure of the copyright or deposit libraries, the specialist libraries and the national lending libraries. The Museum's director, Sir Frank Francis, sat on the Parry Committee. With minor reservations, the Trustees approved the recommendations of that Committee, and we were surprised to learn (of course, we were not at all surprised not to be con- 1120 sulted) that the Government were setting up still another committee to report on library policy, including the future of the British Museum Library. Some of my noble friends will no doubt have something to say about the Dainton Committee, but I want to say just this. Whatever views are held about the place of specialist and lending libraries in a national library system, one thing seems to be agreed by scholars here and in other countries, and indeed is really a matter of common sense. Somewhere there must be a national stock of books and related material covering as wide a field as possible—old and new books, domestic and foreign books—and certainly the national library must be the recipient of one copy of every book published in the country.
My Lords, two of the reasons for having a national library of this kind are, first, that it is an immense convenience and a great economy in staff to be able to find everything in one place—all the out-of-the-way subjects and all the out-of-the-way languages for which it is so difficult to recruit sufficient experts. Secondly, useful and irreplaceable as specialist libraries will always be, there are now a growing number of subjects which cut across any division of knowledge which one cares to make. Let us take, for example, economics, transport, town planning or any of the other social sciences. Which of them does not call for some books that are usually found under the heads of History, Geography, Psychology, Mathematics and the Physical Sciences? An educated nation must have a central stock of books which are always available to everybody, and which are not for borrowing, and this all-embracing collection is more and more wanted in order that the readers may pursue in depth those inter-disciplinary studies which are becoming so much the matter of the curricula for many of our most enlightened university teachers.
My Lords, I must say just a word or two about the reason for keeping the Library and the collections together. From the evidence I have seen it appears that all advanced countries—and I mean "all"—either have now, or are at this moment busily creating, a national library of the kind that we already possess and want to keep in Bloomsbury. But no other country has been able to site its national library alongside collections 1121 of antiquities or works of art. That does not mean that they would not have liked to do so if they could. We know they are very envious of the sequence of events which enabled us in Britain to build our National Library and collections together. We know this because the messages of support that we have received from some of the greatest libraries overseas all fasten on to the advantage which Great Britain enjoys in the combination of library and collections. Our foreign friends are jealous of us and do not want to see us throw our good fortune away.
What is the Government's view about this? Mr. Gordon Walker appears to think that the only argument for keeping the Library and the collections together is a sentimental, conservative plea that what has served us well in the past should always remain unchanged. He must realise by now that he has against him a great number of people who are neither sentimental nor conservative in their educational, social and political views.
What then, are the rational arguments of the Trustees' case? I must say at once that no one knows exactly how many of the readers in the Library also use the collections. It may be that it is only a minority—I do not know. I do know that this minority is a large number and comprises the leading scholars in a good many subjects. Then there are the Museum staff, who could not do their work without the Library next door. I am leaving it to my colleagues, who know so much about this particular point, to explain to your Lordships the practical and technical reasons for keeping the Library and collections together.
I must, however, put before the House the major argument for our case, which is drawn from the experience of human affairs; and I think it can be illustrated by the example of your Lordships' own House. The shape, the functions and the contribution to history of the House of Lords have been defined and developed here in the Palace of Westminster, where at the other end of the corridors the Commons have their Chamber and their Committee Rooms. No one can say that it is absolutely essential for both Houses to do their work under one roof. In other countries where they have two-Chamber Governments the Senators and the Deputies meet in different buildings. 1122 Your Lordships might be driven out; you might be ordered off to some vacant site at Covent Garden or at King's Cross, and there among the ghosts of the cauliflowers or the locomotives you could debate the same Order Paper, serve on the same Committees, eat the same meals, read the same books from your Lordships' transplanted Library—and all in much greater comfort and space. But what would you lose? What would the Commons lose? What would the British system of government lose by the separation of two institutions which have worked together for so long—which have agreed sometimes, disagreed sometimes, and found it easier to make it up because they are under one roof?
And what is true of the two Houses of Parliament is also true of the central Departments of Government clustered in Whitehall; and it is true of other institutions and branches of knowledge. If, by an accident of history or by design, they can be brought together, they have the power to support each other and to enhance the value of each other, so that, like a collection of rare and related objects of art, the whole is worth much more than the isolated parts. The reason is not far to seek. Human affairs are essentially many-sided. When, under the pressure of a technological society, we cut them into specialised activities, we lose something of the quality and wholeness of life. Instead of the living creature we are left with a kind of butcher's shop of dismembered joints.
The British Museum is precious because it reflects and inspires the roundness, the wholeness, of life. In the Library all the flowers of knowledge grow. The reader comes looking for one species, finds it and then discovers another and another, either in the Library or across the way in the collections. If one has not had this delectable experience oneself it is impossible to realise how deeply some of us feel about the axe which is to be laid to the root of the British Museum.
My Lords, I apologise for speaking for so long. I can very quickly sum up the Trustees' position. We shall do our duty under the Act. We do not think it expedient to break up the Library. That is the first and vital point. Secondly, we do not think it expedient to rehouse the Library at a distance from Bloomsbury. If there were no suitable site next 1123 door we should, for the sake of those who use the Library, have to consider anothe site in central London. But this is not the case; the Great Russell Street site exists by a stroke of fortune. We were promised that site by the previous Government: two-thirds of it is already owned by this Government; and half the residents on the site moved in after it was designated for the British Museum Library. The Camden Borough Council, the appropriate Government Departments and the Trustees of the British Museum could work out plans greatly to diminish the hardship of those who would have to be rehoused.
We are asking the Government to think again. We are asking them to suspend all action to dispose of those parts of the site they already own. We are asking them to sit down with us to examine and compare dispassionately the Trustees' plan to build on the Bloomsbury site and whatever alternative plan they have in mind. If your Lordships will indicate your support for this course of action, then I think the Trustees could promise you a rational solution to this problem. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, I should like first to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, for initiating this debate. I do so for many reasons, one of which is that it will give the Government an opportunity to state their side of the story—and, if I dare say so from this Box, I hope that it will be fully reported by the Press. The main question which arises on this Motion is that of our policy about the national libraries—and by this I mean our principal libraries, those which serve a national rather than a local or a regional or a highly specialised function. Four of these have been named in the terms of reference of the new Committee being set up charged with the task of examining needs and recommending how they can best be met.
There is, first and foremost, the British Museum Library, much the largest and the most famous of the four and now comprising two distinct parts, the main collection and the scientific books. These last, together with the former Patent Office library form the new National 1124 Reference Library of Science and Invention, but although this Library has a separate name, and the books are physically separated from the other books, institutionally it is an integral part of the large British Museum Library. The other three libraries covered by the terms of reference, are the National Central Library, the Science Museum Library, both in London, and the National Lending Library for Science and Technology, in Yorkshire. My hope, my Lords, is that this debate will throw valuable light on the problems the Government face in achieving an organisation for these great Libraries which will ensure the best and most efficient and the most economic service for all who use them. There is an urgent need for new thinking in all this. The previous plans for the British Museum Library were made without any thinking at all on this central question. We must now think in terms of future needs and do so in relation to modern techniques. We must have, as a principal aim, the need to avoid overlapping.
Another aim must be to fill gaps left by the present quite haphazard and uncoordinated arrangements. We must see that the books are stored where they are really needed, as shown by the use which is made of them. These questions regarding how we can make our Library Service up to date are those to which I hope that we shall direct our main attention to-day. A well-reasoned debate in this House could be of the greatest help at this juncture to all concerned, and sincerely concerned, with this important problem.
There is certain to be another subject of importance, although I would suggest of less importance, that will take up some (I hope not too much) of our time. I refer to the question of the consultations between the Government and the Trustees of the British Museum which preceded the announcement of the Government's decision on these matters in both Houses of Parliament on October 26. I have studied the papers on this question with the closest attention and I should like to deal first with a personal point.
On October 26 I repeated a Statement made by my right honourable friend in another place, and in reply to supplementary questions from various Members of your Lordships' House I stated that 1125 the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, had taken back the results of the consultation with the then Secretary of State to his Trustees before he was told of the decision which was reached. The noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe was unable to be present when I read the Statement and he subsequently wrote an open letter, based on a Press report of what I had said, in which he stated that he had not been told of the decision. While pointing out that the Press report does not entirely accord with the official Hansard, I should like to offer my apologies to the noble Viscount, for any false impression that I created, and I trust that he will accept these in the spirit in which they are offered to him.
I do not wish to repeat at length what has already been said on this consultation issue. From its very nature this is an issue on which there can be a genuine difference of opinion. It is a matter of judgment how long it is right and proper to go on with discussions about a controversial issue and at what point it is wise, or even necessary, to reach a decision. Why did the Government come to the conclusion in October that a decision was needed and ought to be announced?
First, my Lords, it was common ground between the Government and the Trustees, speaking through their Chairman, that early decisions were necessary. This was for procedural reasons, because it was no longer tolerable to keep the owners of property on the site in suspense about whether the Government were going to acquire their land or not. All these owners were, since April of this year, in a position to force the Government's hand in this matter of the acquisition of their property. Secondly, the Government had by the summer of this year developed grave doubts whether, from the standpoint of national library policy, the previous plans were the right ones.
Here I must digress for a moment and refer to the fact that in 1964 and 1965 decisions on the grouping of functions under departments had resulted in virtually all aspects of library policy coming for the first time under a single Department—the Department of Education and Science. This arose from three quite different decisions. First, some functions of the Department of Scientific and Industrial 1126 Research were in 1964 transferred to the old Ministry of Education, which became the Department of Education and Science, the Department directly concerned with the National Lending Library for Science and Technology. Secondly, under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 the Department became responsible centrally for local authority libraries and also for the grant-in-aid to the National Central Library, with its vitally important co-ordinating functions. Thirdly, the Department became responsible early in 1965 for the annual grant to the British Museum, including, of course, the Library. This concentration of responsibilities for libraries in a single Department had much to do with the growing awareness in the Government of the need for a new look in the interests of efficiency and economy at the whole of tie library set-up.
Next in my list of reasons why the Government concluded in October that a firm decision was needed, and should be announced, come the objections from the Camden Borough Council. These had been submitted in October, 1966. Without entering fully into these objections, I would remind your Lordships that the Council has a housing waiting list of 9,000 people, many being in desperate conditions. The Bloomsbury scheme would mean the loss of housing units for 900 people, and, in addition, a further 700 people now reaccommodated in hotels aid the Y.W.C.A. hostel, immediately opposite the British Museum, would have been displaced.
Secondly, in the Camden objections was the question of this part of Bloomsbury being considered as architecturally pleasing and worthy of preservation. Decisions on these points raised by the Camden Borough Council had not yet been reached, because it was clearly a grave step to go back on the plans for a new Library. By June, as Mr. Crosland told the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, at their meeting, the Government had formed the view that the Camden objections were very strong and that if they were to be overruled the arguments on the other side would have to be even stronger. Views obviously differ on the importance which should be attached to the destruction of homes and also beautiful old buildings, but in the view of the Government these are matters of very 1127 great importance. To go ahead with a plan that involved both these things when there were good reasons for doubting whether the plan that would involve this destruction was really sound did not seem to the Government, after careful thought, justifiable.
Fourthly, my Lords—and this gets to the heart of the controversy about consultation—the Government had in their possession by late July the considered views of the Trustees setting out their reasons why the previous plans should be proceeded with. These were contained in a memorandum sent by Lord Radcliffe to Mr. Crosland on July 25 on behalf of all the Trustees. This was submitted, as arranged between Mr. Crosland and the noble Viscount, at a meeting on June 17 when Mr. Crosland made it clear (at least he stated explicitly, and he thought he had made clear) that the Government felt there would be great difficulties about rejecting the Camden objections. The meeting concluded with an agreement with Lord Radcliffe that he would submit a statement of the Trustees' views on the question. Shortly afterwards he wrote and asked whether it would be all right if this statement was not submitted until towards the end of July. Mr. Crosland agreed to wait until then.
Why, against this background, including the clear agreement between the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, and Mr. Crosland that an early decision was needed, should the Government have assumed that the Trustees wanted to go on with discussion? They had made their views plain. The Government weighed them against the other arguments; they were satisfied that the other arguments—those that I have outlined—were the weightier; they reached and they announced their decision, having first informed the Trustees what it was.
I have tried to understand why so much ill-feeling, or even, I might say, bitterness, has arisen over this issue of consultation. First and foremost, I think this is because of the unwelcome nature of the decision. I say this in no offensive spirit. The decision of the Government is clearly not one which the Trustees can be expected to welcome. It involves the dropping of plans for a new building which have been under consideration, and 1128 then in principle adopted, for many years. Secondly, and perhaps more important, it clearly requires a change in the longstanding association of the Museum and the Library on a single site. It is not possible to doubt that to some extent, perhaps a large extent, the unwelcome nature of the decision itself colours views as to the adequacy of the process of consultation that preceded it. There are, however, some other special factors which seem to me to have added to the very real sense of disturbance, to put it no higher, on the part of the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, and the other Trustees.
I think, in the first place, there was a misunderstanding on the part of the noble Viscount as to the origins and purposes of the meeting with Mr. Crosland on June 14. He had been seeking a meeting with the Minister of Public Building and Works to explain the Trustees' anxieties about the Government's failure to get on with action on the Bloomsbury site. This had had to be postponed. Mr. Crosland wrote saying that he would be glad to see Lord Radcliffe, and any Trustee he would like to bring with him, in Mr. Prentice's place, and to discuss the problems that arose with him. In fact, the noble Viscount came alone. Mr. Crosland did so because he wished to let the Trustees know that the Government had by now come to the conclusion that there would be very great difficulties in dismissing the Camden objections. He said this at the meeting and repeated it. But it is possible that the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, thinking the meeting was taking place because he had asked to see a Minister, may well not have attached the significance which was intended to what Mr. Crosland said. I believe that here may lie the origin of some at least of the later misunderstandings. I may, however, be wrong, for Mr. Crosland was explicit at the meeting in making clear the Government's position. And the fact that a statement of the Museum's position was to be put in, and urgently, also argues against this.
The second cause of misunderstanding relates to the meeting with four of the Trustees of the Museum the day before the announcement of the Government's decision last October. The noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, said in his letter to The Times of October 31 that from the 1129 day of his meeting with Mr. Crosland in June until the day of the announcement he had no further word with the Government. This is not strictly the case. As I have said, there was an exchange of letters between the noble Viscount and Mr. Crosland shortly after the meeting regarding the time limits within which the Trustees should send in their memorandum. This shows, I suggest, appreciation on his part both of the importance of the memorandum and of the urgency which the Government attached to the need to reach an early decision in the light of the views of the Trustees. Thereafter, there was no further direct word between the Secretary of State and the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, simply and solely because of the noble Viscount's unfortunate illness.
Let me explain what happened. When the Government had reached their decision, it was obvious that in the first place this must be made known, confidentially, to the Trustees. This was not—and I must not be misunderstood on this point—for the purposes of further consultation about it. The Government did not, for the reasons I have given, regard such further discussion as necessary. The further approach to the Trustees was to be made because it was clearly the right and proper thing to inform them of the decision before it was announced in Parliament. The noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, was ill, and the Trustees have no Deputy Chairman. The Secretary of State accordingly asked the Director of the Museum with which Trustees he should get in touch in the place of the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe. Delay, for which I hold no-one responsible, but for which certainly the Secretary of State was not responsible, then ensued. There was, as I say, no Deputy Chairman. Some Trustees were, it seems, abroad or otherwise not available. In the end, four Trustees, including the noble Lords, Lord Boyd of Merton, Lord Eccles and Lord Annan, saw the Secretary of State and were told of the Government's decision only the day before the announcement was made. The fact that the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, himself was not seen again by the Secretary of State was solely due to his unfortunate illness.
I have dealt with this issue of consultation at much greater length than I should have wished. I have done so because although this is clearly not the question 1130 of prime importance on this debate, it is important that the Government should not have failed in any culpable way to consult the Trustees of this most important institution on this important matter. I am myself persuaded that they have not so failed. Opinions can and will differ on a matter of this kind, which, as I have said, is essentially one of personal judgment. I hope that not too much of the debate will be taken up by it.
There are many other aspects of this complex question. Some have been raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles; others will no doubt be raised by later speakers. My noble Leader, Lord Longford, will deal with these when he speaks later. There is, however, the final point which I should like to make. This relates to delay in actually getting the new Library we all agree to be necessary. There has been much delay already. Little, if anything, was done for six vital years from 1955 to 1961 under the previous Government. And the plans they then made for future action after the years of virtually no action were leisurely in the extreme. They never envisaged that building would actually start before some date in the 1970s or be finished before the 1980s. There is no reason whatsoever to expect that we shall not keep to—and indeed improve on—this timetable.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT RADCLIFFE
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Eccles, in introducing this Motion, was kind enough to speak about the fact, which is known to your Lordships, that I have not been very well recently. That is true; but I have permission to attend and to speak in your Lordships' House to-day. I shall say some very hard things about the Government and their proceedings. It may be that I shall not be here when my noble friend Lord Longford, replies, and I hope that he will forgive me, but I hope that he will not spare me in any way through any misgiving that my head is not in a condition to receive such explanations of their conduct as the Government think themselves capable of offering.
May I say one word about what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, with regard to something which I gather she said at the time of the earlier announcement of the Government's decision? Of course, I accept 1131 gladly any apology that could be needed, but in my view—and I do not think that in some respects I can be wrong—she was not quite right in what she said about me. But, after all, she was only repeating what Mr. Gordon Walker was going to say in another place, and not only has Mr. Gordon Walker's inability to get his facts right on this subject been exposed more than once in the debates in another place in the course of the last month, but I may have an opportunity of drawing attention to one or more additional mistakes to-day.
I am not going to dwell at any length upon the oddities attributed to the word "consultation" in the Government's view. Consultation, my Lords, good heavens! In this connection, when one thinks of the statutory position of the Trustees and their responsibilities for the future, consultation does not mean one meeting, which we are now told had an ambiguous purpose, since it is now said that it was not arranged in response to the letter I had written to the Minister of Public Building and Works two months previously asking for an interview to discuss all that was apparently so uncertain. Consultation is bringing the Trustees, who are responsible under the Act for the "general management and conduct" of this great institution, into discussions if the Government are going to change their minds against twenty years of planning. It means asking them what is in their minds, if the Government are going to decide to throw on the scrap-heap the Bloomsbury scheme. It means, if the Government are determined to throw the scheme away, asking what the Trustees think is a possible alternative. Not one word of that was ever contemplated.
For the record, I do not accept the statement that Mr. Crosland said to me that the British Museum arguments in favour of retaining the Bloomsbury site would have to be either very strong to counteract Camden's objection or overwhelming. He used no such words. I have said all that I care to say about that in the letter that I wrote to The Times; and I stick by every word of that letter.
I am ashamed that I should have to say the things that I am going to say about this Government's decision. It is not right that this country should be 1132 faced with a situation in which such hard and, I fear, wounding things have to be said. But they have to be said, because there is a public interest involved here—not just a Governmental interest—about which the public should be told. This particular decision, as it is called (I will try to speak as mildly as I can), has shown an arrogant and contemptuous indifference to the functions and the purpose of a great national institution. There has been arrogance where there should have been inquiry; vanity where there should have been a wish to learn; and, above all, ignorance which has led to confounding judgment.
There has been not only that, but there has been as well an almost unbelievable administrative incompetence in the way that this decision has been arrived at. It has been arrived at without any attempt to refer to, or seek the advice of, the Trustees, who are by law responsible for the management and conduct of this institution; without any attempt to consult the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries, who have the constitutional right to be asked for their advice; and without any consultation with the G.L.C., whose plan has thus been thrown overboard, after the years within which it has stood.
It is not only a grave constitutional impropriety that all these agencies should be ignored and despised, but also a gross discourtesy to all those independent organisations, of which we are merely one, without whose voluntary service, energies and enthusiasm a great deal of what goes on and is achieved in this country would fail. These people must be enabled to feel that they are not merely subordinates to whom instructions can be given, not merely dependants to whom charity can be handed out, but independent people with their own interests and their own views that are worth obtaining and worth trying to compromise with if they do not happen to agree with Government policy. The Trustees, I agree, have been insulted. But we are quite ready to bear insults in a good cause; and I daresay we shall be insulted further and again. But through us are insulted all the voluntary effort and all independent people.
Perhaps, since ignorance seems to play a large part in this matter, I may repeat briefly what the noble Lord said about 1133 our responsibilities under the law. These arise under the 1963 Act, only four years ago, which was put through Parliament after a great deal of careful consideration and a great deal of controversy about some of its provisions. Under that Act, as I have said, we, the Trustees, are meant to be the masters of the British Museum. We do not have to seek the approval of any Department except so far as, as indeed, has always been the case, the Museum depends for its money on public funds. We cannot be overruled by any Department. It is our duty to keep all our collections, which include all the library books, on the authorised sites, and nowhere else. We cannot get rid of them, or any part of them, even if we want to; we have no power to do it. We have a limited power under conditions strictly laid down by Parliament to lend parts of our collection. We exercise it freely. But it is our authority and our decision alone which makes any loan possible.
I will remind your Lordships later that the scientific material in the possession of the British Museum—books, periodicals, patent specifications, et cetera—including the very large additions which have been made to it, with the authority and approval of the Department of Education and Science, in the last two and a half years, are themselves part of the British Museum collections which cannot be parted with. Take a new Act of Parliament—if you are going to insist that you wish some other set-up for the nation's Libraries—and you will find, I think, some lively debates about the proposals that you make.
That is the position by law, as it stands. What happens? We have our duties as Trustees for the public. That means scholars, national and international; it means visitors, whether they are learned, whether they are half-learned, whether they are curious or merely inquisitive. It means all those, adults or children, foreigners or citizens of this country, who wish to come and see and claim the rights of viewing our collections. That is our primary duty, to think of and be responsible to those people. We have a duty to Parliament. Primarily it is this. We must be careful and honest in sending in our estimates for what moneys we need, and every third year we must put in a Report 1134 to Parliament, stating as fully as we think appropriate what is our position and what is our progress.
We have a responsibility to the Department of Education and Science; but it is this. It is to be honest and candid in all our dealings with them. It is to give them honestly any information about our plans or our purposes or our situation which they may ask for. But that is a duty which involves a reciprocal obligation from that Department to treat us with proper candour. In this matter, upon which we are suddenly told the Government have arrived at a decision, we have been treated with an undeviating lack of candour; and I think it is a disgrace.
We came, two and a half years ago, as the noble Baroness said, under the aegis (if that can possibly be the appropriate word) of the Department of Education and Science. I have not found in my dealings with that Department—nor, I think, would any Trustee dispute this—that eager interest, that enthusiasm for a great national institution or that amount of knowledge that I think, in the first place, would be due to us from the Department. I think if they make themselves responsible—instead of the Treasury, with whom we had happier and more knowledgeable dealings befcre—for our affairs, it is their duty to equip themselves with an adequate number of skilled and knowledgeable people who can deal with a great museum like this. I do not expect 70 civil servants, on £5,000 a year plus, such as MINTEC (the nickname by which we are all learning to love this Department), equips itself; but I do expect that we should be given an adequate, interested, and knowledgeable force of persons with whom to deal. The only time that I ever saw the Minister himself was on the occasion of this meeting on June 14, or whatever the date was that we have heard so much about.
I wish to say something—and I think all the Museum Trustees would wish me to say it—about Miss Jennie Lee, who, if you like, is more directly responsible and concerned with our affairs. We think that she has made, certainly on one or two occasions, sincere efforts to aid the Museum in its many difficulties on matters (I cannot say they are central matters) such as our proposal that we 1135 should have 6 Burlington Gardens allocated to us, and put out there, since we could not display or even keep them properly in our restricted space, the collections of ethnography. I know that she put the weight of her authority and pressure behind that idea of ours. And I believe it may go through, except that nobody is prepared on the Treasury side to provide any money for it; and, therefore, although it is an idea which we understand is approved, unless we get any money I do not know how the conversion and necessary works are going to be carried out.
Miss Lee has also welcomed our prayer for a proper restaurant in this great place for the public and the staff. It is only in the elementary planning stage; I do not know when it will be carried out. It has involved the Trustees' sacrificing (to use a favourite phrase of Mr. Gordon Walker) one of the most dignified and historic parts of the British Museum itself, their own Board Room, in order to provide a foyer for the new restaurant. We have decided to do this because we think that a restaurant ought to be there. But I shall be surprised if it turns up within the next five or six years, in view of the general wish to delay or palter with all our major plans. But I wish to pay that tribute to Miss Lee for her interest on our behalf, even though they are matters which are only peripheral to the major purposes of the institution.
What are the reasons given for this decision?—Napoleonic, Mr. Gordon Walker would have us believe. Nobody had ever made up his mind before about this Bloomsbury scheme, and there was the man of decision coming down and saying, "It is a very important decision. No. Throw it on the scrap-heap." This is not true, of course. It had been decided, affirmed by the previous Government in 1964. Well, let us get away from Napoleonics, and let us ask what reasons have been advanced for this decision.
First of all, it used to be that the great stress was laid on the Camden housing problem. It does not appear so strongly now, owing to the letter from the chairman of the housing committee at Camden, which made it quite plain that they, just like the Trustees, had accepted that this scheme was a Government scheme 1136 and was effective and would go through; and their real concern was to arrange about something which is still, by plan, some years off; how to minimise the displacement of housing; quite a small thing in relation to the many problems which have to be faced; how to minimise it by appropriate arrangements, which could, of course, have been discussed and solved if the Government had wanted to discuss them, had wanted to facilitate the scheme. They are on a trivial scale compared to what is faced by local authorities every year over the country.
You build a great road like the extension of Western Avenue in North London. How many housing units do you sweep away there for the public Interest? You plan a great airport at Stansted, and how many people find that the conditions of their life are affected, severely prejudiced, by what you do? It has to be done. We are talking about a scheme which is recognised as a great architectural and urban planning venture, and the proposition is put forward that it cannot be done because it raises—as I am sorry to say it does raise—a housing problem. It is said, "We will find you a site somewhere in Central London when we know what we want to do". What site in Central London—it is not a prairie—are you going to find that will not involve some effect on housing and office building? It is absurd to go talking in this vague way, as if all Central London were an open field in which you move. I attach no sincerity to that statement at all. The proper site is the Bloomsbury site, which has been planned for twenty years.
This is perhaps the only funny bit in this grim and tragic incident. It is said (I think I am quoting correctly) that the Bloomsbury area is one of the most dignified and historical sites in London. This suggests to me that Mr. Gordon Walker—this is his favourite phrase; he has used it twice, I think, in the debates—is not very familiar with the purlieus of the British Museum, which I can well believe. In fact, it is a seedy and run-down area. It has some pleasant relics here and there of Georgian architecture, if Georgian architecture is particularly sacred. I sometimes contemplate to myself the Secretary of State, accompanied by his scientific or other 1137 experts, searching the area in order to detect here a Georgian doorframe, a Georgian window piece there, a broken pediment there. There are only two great architectural items in the whole of this area: one is the Smirke front of the British Museum; the other one is the Hawksmoor Church of St. George. Both of those, under this scheme, are not only going to be preserved but are going to be shown in their full glory as architectural elements for the first time.
The West side of Bloomsbury Square we are now to mourn over. Well, there is a delightful house at the corner of Bloomsbury Square which I should like to see saved. It is where the architect Nash lived when a young man. He went bankrupt there and then moved out. The present appearance is not very like what it was when Nash built it, because it was substantially altered in about 1840; and Nash, after all, is not exactly a Bloomsbury architect. His great plan with reference to Bloomsbury was to make a large central street cutting right through from Pall Mall East up to the British Museum. That, it was said, would bring Whitehall into closer touch with the British Museum.
Your Lordships know the quotation from the report of the G.L.C. about this proposal—which it welcomed as a great architectural and planning venture. It has its Historic Buildings Sub-Committee. They told it about the little architectural elements that are to be found in the area. But it said it did not think they were to be considered in relation to the importance of this plan. Your Lordships know what the Royal Fine Art Commission said about it. I have not looked up the reference, but if I may take it rightly from the Parliamentary debate in the other House, they could find one building only that really mattered there. I would have found two, at least. I am not sure which one they had in mind. As to this pretence about the architectural importance of the site, I am very sorry; I do not like to say it, but I do not believe it weighs with the Government.
Recently we have been given a third reason. It is said—and there is no demonstration of this whatsoever—that there is confusion, grave confusion, about our National Library services, and overlapping. They may be overlapping. It 1138 is not what I should regard necessarily as a defect when you are considering libraries with their varying purposes. But let it be said that there is confusion and overlapping. What is the proof of it? What are the Government worrying about? Have they asked us one question on this point; made one suggestion to us; made one inquiry of us? No, because we are the British Museum. Have they gone to the Science Museum and asked them, without asking us? Have they gone to the National Lending Library? Whom have they gone to, if anybody? Or is this something that has been bred out of the head of the Secretary of State for Education and Science? It is absurd to make a statement like this, as your main ground for a decision of this kind, when you have not sought to find out from any of the main bodies concerned what the situation is.
Why a committee? Why not get together these people round the table, tell them what your difficulties are; tell them what your suggestions are; tell them what you want done, and see whether (I do not like to use the word) with a round-table-conference you cannot get out an agreed plan, if there are gaps that should be stopped? Four years have been spent by the Parry Committee—four years, on their investigation of part of this problem. But I do not suppose the Parry Committee are very popular, because they assume that the British Museum would be treated as a National Library and would have a large extension. I dare say that that was not regarded as something which they ought to be talking about. I think this alleged desire to have a committee to tell you what you ought to know or find out yourself is another of these ideas that have been cooked up. I am very sorry to have to talk like this; it is really in a sense disgraceful that I should have to. But this is forced upon us; yes, forced upon us, I quite agree, by the Government's action; not ours.
What is it really? Is it not some decision that has been taken already and not communicated to us? Is it not really a feeling that the British Museum is a very ancient institution and therefore suspect; that it has a great national and international importance; that it has a body of Trustees whom, I am afraid, one has to call eminent, but that of course 1139 they really are fuddy-duddies who cannot be trusted with the development of anything to do with science, whether books or literature? Is not that really what lies behind all this?
When one considers the history of the National Reference Library of Science and Invention I wonder whether there is not a bit of this in this governmental approach. That body is part of the British Museum; it is not separate. Its possessions in the way of books and literature are part of the Museum collections and cannot be parted with by law. The decision to form this special science open access reference library was taken as long ago as 1960, arising out of the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Scientific Policy. The purchasing under special grants made by Parliament of additional material to form this section began in 1963. Very large sums have been granted by Parliament in the last two or three years on the recommendation of the Department of Education and Science in order to add to these stocks. £225,000 of special grant has been used in adding to the British Museum collections for this purpose. £129,000 in addition has been allocated by the Museum out of its general purchase grant.
What has happened? The idea was that there should be a new building for the Patent Office on the South Bank and that the two lowest floors of that building should be occupied by this new section consisting of the Reference Library of Science and Invention. In 1966 the present Government added to the British Museum Library for this purpose the whole of the Patent Office collection, now part of the British Museum stock. What has happened? The South Bank project disappeared because the Government would not have the Patent Office there; they wanted to send it somewhere else—Croydon; I do not know where it is going at the moment. The whole of that scheme fell through. The L.C.C., as I think it was then, got bored with waiting for the determination about this site and closed the option. We pressed and pressed for a new site in which the building could commence. We were told there might be somewhere at Vauxhall. As soon as we thought, "It is not very convenient, but the new Tube is to go there and perhaps we ought not to make difficulties 1140 about it, if it is big enough; there will be sufficient access", we were told it was withdrawn and was not available.
§ VISCOUNT RADCLIFFE
I will tell you if I can pause for a moment to think. It was within the course of the last twelve months. The Ministry of Public Building and Works will brief you very fully about the Vauxhall discussion. It was quite recent. In the recent debate Mr. Gordon Walker began to twit the Conservative Part with having themselves, as he called it, sent the National Reference Library into these upper floors in Bayswater above Whiteleys. It was not that Government at all; it was this Government that did it. It was the best place they could find for us. The Patent Office Library is grossly overcrowded, with a 70 per cent. rise in readers in the last six years, with open access for 100 years. It is the first library of that kind in the world to use photo-copies; that is part of our great new venture. The other one is out above Whiteleys without any hope of open access. All we can do is store and organise material, and we hope next year admit a small number of readers.
Why is it that when it is under the British Museum everything that we try to do is thwarted in this way? Is it not to show that we are incapable of running a library connected with science or technology? Is that not the idea? We have lost from our Board of Trustees in the last nine months a very distinguished scientist, Professor Pantin, who died in May, who understood the British Museum and who was devoted to it, and whose services I think we all not only wish to recognise but also express our gratitude for. We lost Sir Cyril Hinshelwood, another very distinguished scientist from our Board of Trustees two months ago. No appointment of anybody to take their place has been made. We have been waiting since May with the Pantin vacancy, since June with the Lord Normanbrook vacancy, and since September, when the term of one of the Trustees, Sir Stephen Runciman, who knows a great deal about libraries expired, for his reappointment or his replacement. Nothing has been done. Why? Is it not this: that this institution enjoys neither the respect nor the interest of the present Government? It is 1141 regarded as being incapable of keeping up with the times, and it is not worth while wasting time by talking to it; by asking what it is doing or hoping to do or making any inquiry at all until you can spring a decision which throws the whole thing over.
I would ask for candour, if that is the Government's policy, if that is their decision. The Prime Minister says that it is irrevocable. I should like the Government just to be candid with us and the public, and at any rate to have courage enough to earn the disgrace that they deserve. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.57 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, have put us in their debt. I think that even those who may have been on the receiving end of their speeches will agree that both have made speeches of great power and great intellectual force. They are being followed by a long list of other Trustees and other experts, and for that reason—if only for that reason; there are others—I propose to curtail my own remarks.
Your Lordships may recall that we debated the arts some months ago and a great deal of attention was focused in our debate last April on the question of the British Museum and on the Report of the Trustees of the British Museum. That Report dwelt on the appalling conditions in which the Library of the Museum was housed—conditions appalling alike for the books, for the students, for the researchers and, not least, for the staff. I think most of us would agree that that Library is perhaps the greatest collection of its kind in the world, and it is to-day certainly the worst housed. That Report held out high hopes of better things to come, the great new Library of which my noble friend and the noble and learned Viscount have spoken. It contained a warning which makes rather ironic reading to-day—and I quote from the Report:Only active and constant support from all levels of Government can make a reality of it within any period of time which is worth talking about at all.1142 The Trustees in the Report therefore ask for an unqualified assurance that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to ensure that this undertaking is carried through with a real sense of urgency and expedition.
Those were the Trustees' high hopes only a few months ago. That was the bread for which they asked. What they received instead was the Secretary of State's brusque and almost inexplicable decision to consign twenty years of planning to the dustheap. The Government advanced a number of arguments for that decision. They sought to justify their decision by sheltering behind the objections of the Borough of Camden. I do not wish, any more than the noble Lords who have preceded me, to minimise the importance of Camden's objections. Anybody who knows anything about the pressure on available housing in Central London—anyone, for example, who has digested the Milner Holland Report—knows that residential accommodation at the centre is far too precious to be lightly sacrificed. There must be great consequential pros to offset this obvious and considerable con.
But, my Lords, as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, has said, this matter must be viewed in perspective. As I think the noble Baroness said, 900 people at present live on the site on which the new Library complex would be built, or would have been built. But the complex would not be just Library; it would include residential accommodation for 350 or so of the 900. Only 550 persons would therefore have to move, and that over a period of some ten years or so—an average of 55 people a year. Contrast that with the fact that in the borough of Lambeth alone some 3,000 people are rehoused every year. The disparities are really trivial, to use the term of the noble and learned Viscount. Moreover, some 400 of the 900 moved into this area after the 1952 public inquiry, and therefore they moved into it in full knowledge of the fact that it might be taken for the British Museum Library.
But even apart from this the Secretary of State himself has said that he is personally convinced that this great new Library should be in Central London; and I must say that I share the noble and learned Viscount's views. I can think of 1143 few sites—unless Mr. Gordon Walker is going to plump for one of the Royal Parks—where the building of a great new Library will not cause the displacement of a great number of people from their housing.
The second main ground for Camden's objections, one which the Government presumably accept, has been that the new building would mean the destruction of a great many houses of architectural and historical distinction. I think I can say that I am a preservationist almost à l'outrance. But here again, one must retain a sense of proportion. One must balance the certain loss against the probable gain. Quite frankly, London would not be losing a great deal if these six or seven acres were to go. Admittedly, there is variety and character about the area. But, as has been said, most of it is pretty dingy and run down. There are no buildings of the highest class. I think there are no buildings in grade 1; I think that there are only seven in grade 2, and a dozen in grade 3. I understand that the Greater London Council, who are most vigilant watchdogs of London's architectural heritage (and I am glad that they are, and that their predecessors, the London County Council, were) have withdrawn their initial objections on this score; and the plan for the new Library has been passed by the Royal Fine Art Commission.
That design, by two of our most distinguished achitects, Mr. Leslie Martin and Mr. St. John Wilson, has met with wide approval. As the Report to the G.L.C.'s Planning Committee stated:The proposed scheme constitutes a major example of urban and architectural design on a grand scale for which opportunities seldom occur in such an important part of Central London.The design is much more than just a Library, although the Library has been conceived in extremely imaginative terms. It would embrace a great new piazza, the first great new public place to be built in Central London since Trafalgar Square. It would open up a fine view of the Smirke portico from Bloomsbury Way; it would provide a splendid frame for St. George's Church, Hawksmoor's baroque creation, and it would be in scale with surrounding Bloomsbury. It would sit well with its surroundings, unlike only too 1144 many great new buildings in London. A writer in that defender of the Faith, the New Statesman, has described this design as being:a stunning piece of architecture, of the first rank internationally, and of cardinal importance to this country.If the Government persist in Gordon Walker's folly, the nation will not only be losing a great new Library building, a frame for the greatest collection of its kind in the world, but will also be losing a planning and an architectural concept of the first importance and one which, taken together with what can, and should, be done in the Covent Garden area, would immensely enhance the appearance and amenities of a great part of Central London.
But, my Lords, we shall be losing much more than that, as my noble friend and the noble and learned Viscount have so ably demonstrated. We shall be losing all the manifold advantages which flow from the fact of the Library and the Museum being housed together. This has been one of the Museum's most particular characteristics for 200 years. I grant that in other countries they may order things differently. In France, they have the Louvre and the Bibliothèque Nationale, housed apart. In New York, they have the Metropolitan Museum and the New York Central Library, both living their separate lives. But this 200-year old cohabitation of the Museum and the Library has brought, and brings, great advantages. I will not touch upon them; they have been touched upon already, and no doubt they will be elaborated further. But it would be foolish to throw away these great advantages without good reason: and good reason has yet to be given.
We shall also be losing, unless Mr. Gordon Walker is keeping something up his sleeve, the great advantages which flow from the fact that the Library is in Central London and in Bloomsbury. Its location at the heart of London means that it is easily and conveniently accessible to the visitor, or the student or the don who comes to London, be it from the Provinces or from abroad. But not only does the Library cohabit with the Museum; it also cohabits with our largest University, the University of London, with University College and with a dozen or more institutes of higher learning. If 1145 you draw a quite small circle round the British Museum you will enclose within it by far the greatest concentration of intellectual talent in this country. It is a priceless advantage that these thousands of students and researchers and teachers—this élite—can, through the geographical position of the Museum and the Library, and as a result of the arrangements which the Museum has made with its neighbours, have easy access, by foot, to most of the books that man has ever written. It is this asset which the Government are putting, and I fear may perhaps already have put, quite needlessly at risk.
I listened with attention to what the noble Baroness said, and I shall listen with great attention to what the noble Earl the Leader of the House has to say when he winds up. But I should be a lot less than frank if I were not to make it clear that I have found the justifications which the Government have so far advanced puzzling and peculiarly unconvincing. The Secretary of State has suggested that the major reason may not be the objections of the Borough of Camden, but rather his decision to establish an independent Committee to look into the organisation of our four great national Libraries. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, has referred to his decision to establish an independent Committee. I will not dwell on the merits, the pros and cons, of the decision. All I should like to say is that I find it extremely hard to see how the Government's decision to set up this Committee can justify, or indeed be related to, the "thumbs-down" which they have given to the new Library project. Frankly, that beats me.
Let us accept, for the sake of argument, the Government's apparent contention that we need a more unified framework, whatever they may mean, for our national libraries. But even if we do, even if we establish such a framework, why and how does this affect the choice for the site for the Museum Library? Would it not be perfectly possible to bring the Museum Library on its new Bloomsbury site within that new framework? What possible good reason is there to prevent that? If you are going to bring our great libraries within some new overall framework, I should have thought that that tends to strengthen, rather than weaken, the arguments for 1146 proceeding with the construction of this great new project, either as a constituent part of the new Library system, if that is needed, or, preferably, as its kernel. I hope—but I must confess I doubt—that the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, when he replies, will be able to give us a satisfactory answer on this general point.
Be that as it may, I should like to put in this context a number of specific questions to him. In the first place, can the noble Earl assure us that no directive has been given or will be given to the Committee which would preclude it from recommending the Bloomsbury site as being the best site for the new Library? Will it be quite unfettered in this respect? Secondly, if, as I hope, the Committee is really independent, as it is said to be, and is going to be unfettered, what do the Government propose to do about the site meanwhile? They have acquired most of it, or rather their predecessors have. Will they continue to hold it at least until the Committee has reported?
I must confess that I was worried, even before the Prime Minister's letter yesterday to Lord Radcliffe, about a particularly silly remark by the Secretary of State in another place. He said, in reply to my right honourable friend Mr. Rippon, that:The right honourable and learned gentleman's Bloomsbury scheme is, therefore, at an end.That seemed to me not only a rather unworthy but an enlightening remark, illustrating the Secretary of State's attitude of mind, his desire to personalise the scheme and to make politics of it—a scheme which has been nurtured and matured over twenty years by Governments of both political complexions and endorsed by a most eminent body of Trustees—by pretending that the scheme was merely a product of one particular Tory Minister's mind. But I am much more disquieted at the statement in the Prime Minister's letter thatthe Blomsbury site had to be given up at once".As I see it, that is simply crazy. Would not everyone look extremely silly if this independent Committee were in fact to recommend that this was the best site, when the Government had taken action which meant that it was no longer available? I hope that on this, at least, the 1147 Government can be prevailed upon to think again. Unless they do, one thing is certain—and that is that there is going to be further delay.
The Secretary of State has said that:there will be no delay because it takes a lot of time to clear property, to dig the foundations, to build and the rest".My Lords, the Trustees, if no one else, know how much time "the rest" takes—in "the rest" is indeed the rub. If the present site were to be given up, consider what would happen. A new site would have to be found. A wide-ranging search would have to be made, because six or seven acres of suitable land are not that easily available in Central London. The site, when found, will have to be designated. The Greater London Council Development Plan will have to be amended. The process of public inquiry—that laborious process which we heard about when the Government spokesman was speaking about Stansted only two days ago—will have to be gone through; the process of acquisition will have to be gone through; the architects will have to prepare their plans. It is very hard to believe that there will be no delay, and the Government's assurances on this point strain at least my credulity.
I have only one further point to make, and I will be brief. It is on the question of lack of consultation. I was grateful to the noble Baroness for her explanation. I should like to say straight away that we on these Benches acquit her, and would have acquitted her unheard, of any intention of misleading the House. All of us who know the noble Baroness well would feel this about her. But I was grateful to her for her explanation. On the question of lack of consultation with the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, well, that great jurist is more than capable of defending himself, and I will say no more on that score.
As for the treatment of his fellow Trustees, I will say only this. Before the 1963 Act the Trustees were a large, unwieldy, hereditary or ex officio body—not unlike your Lordships' House. They were replaced by a smaller, streamlined body, mainly nominated by the Prime Minister. I only hope that the treatment meted out by the Government to the Trustees of the British Museum does not in any way 1148 foreshadow the treatment which could possibly be meted out in the future to another smaller, streamlined body. But it is not only a matter of the treatment of Lord Radcliffe and the Trustees and the lack of consultation. As the noble and learned Viscount himself has said, the Greater London Council, who bear a large responsibility in the matter, were not consulted; Camden, surprisingly enough, were not consulted; the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries were not consulted. It is the old process, with which we are becoming all too familiar these days, of needless and stupid lack of consultation.
It is only two days since we discussed the Stansted case. I then felt compelled to draw a comparison between the case of Ullswater and the case of Stansted. To-day I feel bound to make a similar comparison between the Government's ineptitude over Stansted and their ineptitude over the Museum Library. Once again we are faced with a really major planning issue. Once again, with their unerring ability for blunder, the Government have contrived to make a monumental gaffe. That is the matter of the thing. There is also the manner. Once again the Government have failed to consult, by any real criterion of consultation, those who have a right to be consulted and those from whose advice they would have benefited. And once again there is a deep and real sense of outrage. Once again the Government, this weak but stubborn Government, seem deaf to argument. And once again we find ourselves asking this tone-deaf Government—and I fear we may be asking them in vain—to take their homework back and to do it again.
§ 4.18 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I, too, have to declare an interest in that I am a Trustee of the British Museum. I was a Trustee under the older constitution in which a large number of the Trustees were there ex officio, and I have survived to be a Trustee within the present reformed body of Trustees. As a Trustee I do not want to enter into controversies about consultation, because there is a bigger issue to which I shall come in a moment or two. The noble Baroness in her speech used the noun "consultation" and the verb "consult" in ways with which I 1149 am entirely unfamiliar. I, in my innocence, have all my life supposed that to consult people meant to talk to them, to get their advice and opinion about a project, to consider with them the consequences for them and for other people of any project, and to try so far as possible to thresh out the problems involved. But to-day I gather that "consultation" means summoning people in order to inform them of a decision which has already been taken.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE EARL OF LONGFORD)
My Lords, may I point out to the most reverend Primate, with enormous respect, that he is totally mistaken? He clearly was not following as closely as he usually does the remarks of the noble Baroness. She went out of her way to say that any attempt to inform the Trustees at the end would not have been consultation.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, informing would not have been consultation, but the decision was made without the Trustees having an opportunity to comment to the Government on the problems that their decision would cause, and on the possible ways in which they could help to deal with the problems thus created. That, I think, is some distance from one's more familiar uses of the word "consultation".
While I have this interest with my fellow Trustees, I can honestly say that I have a larger interest, which I am sure noble Lords in all parts of this House have—an interest in the great question of a national library. How can a national library for the future be planned in the best way possible as regards its contents, its organisation, its geographical position, and its relation to other institutions? We have a committee being appointed by the Government, in order to go in a comprehensive way into the questions concerning how a national library can best he conducted. But should not that committee be free to consider every major question about the character and the relationships of a national library?
Among the questions which undoubtedly come to mind in connection with a national library in this country is this question: Is it or is it not a good thing that a library should be in propinquity to museum collections? 1150 There are other countries where it might be said, "The question is quite a new one. We cannot bring our minds to bear upon it", or, "We have no evidence to go on in our country." But in this country there is a considerable amount of past evidence to go on concerning the question: Is this propinquity a valuable thing, or is it not a valuable thing? It does not seem to me that an objective scientific inquiry has any right to prejudice that question in advance, or to dismiss it as not worth asking. The Secretary of State has said:I have never heard any rational argument advanced for this.That is an astonishing statement. It dismisses the question as not worth asking or answering, and that is in the face of a considerable body of learned opinion in this country and in other countries which believes it to be a very important question.
May I quote some words written by the Librarian of Harvard University. He said:The future location of the British Museum Library is a question of profound significance, not only to Britain but to scholars everywhere. A major factor in its pre-eminence as an institution of learning, is the remarkable interaction of the collections and the Library which is to be found in no other nation.That is a generalised statement. But should not a body, which is objectively trying to plan for us a national library in a scientific way, look into all the evidence available and not exclude it?
Let me quote some words by one of the members of the staff of the British Museum, who said:The Antiquities Department could not work for a day without the books which the Library provides. If it were removed any distance it would be necessary for the senior staff of the Antiquities Department to spend up to half of their time at the Library. Departmental libraries would have to be increased enormously and many of the books required would not be obtained.Further, he says:The Department of Coins and Medals might well have to move with the Library, so great is its dependence upon the Library resources.The quotations which I have made are just illustrations of a whole field of evidence which it seems needs to be examined, if right decisions are going to be made for the long-term future about the position and role of a national library 1151 or national libraries. It seems to me that the apparent "door-closing" of this big scientific and scholarly issue, by the statements made by members of the Government and by the apparent exclusion altogether of the Bloomsbury site, is really making a rational and scientific decision, which the country has a right to call for, virtually impossible.
I ask my noble friend the Leader of the House to tell us when he replies whether he adheres to the statement of the Secretary of State, and whether the Government adhere to the opinion of the Secretary of State that there are no rational arguments for the interrelation of Library and Museum. If the Government really adhere to that, then I think they are letting us down very badly by an arbitrary judgment in the face of a big volume of evidence and scholarly opinion. If, on the other hand, the Government are unwilling in the last resort to dig their toes in on the lines of this strange statement, will they be ready to have one more look at the widest possibilities that there may be for national library policy?
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ LORD FISKE
My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships for the first time, it is necessary for me to ask for your indulgence. You might feel that on this occasion your indulgence will be strained if I am to get through a first speech before you without indulging in controversy on a subject which has aroused so much passion, but this I hope to do, because I come to speak to you in an interested capacity, as an inhabitant of London. There are some 8¼ million of us, and we live and work in and around London and provide all the essential services on which the Museum and its Library, not so far distant in time let us hope, rely. I also speak to you as one who has had some responsibility for the government of London and who, for the years from 1949 to 1955, which are not unconcerned in this controversy, was the Chairman of the London County Council's Town Planning Committee.
I think one must look at this subject, if one is to consider any town planning aspect at all, wider than the Museum and the Library site. One must think of it in terms of the area of Bloomsbury, and one must think what the area of Bloomsbury has become. A prominent Member 1152 in another House the other evening described it as a "dog's dinner". I think it was rather more delicately put by the late Hector Munro in 1911, when he was writing a story complaining about the ties that his aunts would send him for Christmas presents:They are ties which I can only wear in private or in the Tottenham Court Road".I really do not think that he would have found it necessary to alter the wording of that story had he been writing to-day, because it is, to my mind, one of the most characterless pieces of London. I do not know why this is so. Is it because it is the private stamping ground of University College, so much less elegant in these days than it must have been in its pristine architectural glory? Or is it because it is the headquarters of the University of London itself, which again has added little architectural distinction to the scene? Or is it because the space is jostled for by the many hospitals that cluster between Queen's Square and Berners Street? Or is it that it is a great centre of the tourist trade, with all its hotels, at all different levels, backed by the three great railway termini of Euston, St. Pancras and King's Cross?
It seems to me that it is against this background that we must consider the planning. And on the planning I want to say just a very few words and to correct one or two misinterpretations which I think have been put on planning, and particularly on the powers of local planning authorities when they are faced with powerful national bodies backed by Ministers of the Crown. It is, I hope, well known to your Lordships that under a section of the Act (for which we shall all be eternally grateful to my noble friend Lord Silkin) the Crown is not required to obtain town planning permission in the way that we as ordinary mortals have to, and therefore when the G.L.C. or the Camden Borough Council, or in the old days the L.C.C., is asked to put something in a plan, it puts it in. It may have some comments to make and some questions to ask, but it has no powers; and I think this point needs to be made abundantly clear.
In Abercrombie's County of London Plan of 1943 there is no mention at all of the Museum proposals, and, in all honesty, I should not expect that one would find them there. But by 1951, in 1153 the plan that I had the great honour to produce and introduce to the London County Council before its presentation to the Minister, it does appear, simply in a few words under the chapter headed, "The designation of land" as a proposal for 5.4 odd acres of land for the British Museum; and there is a covering note at the head of that which says that the designation of land should normally be in respect of land which it is expected to acquire within five years.
If there is one note of criticism that I want to introduce in this speech, it is that I thought there was an air of complacency about the acceptance of twenty years' planning. My Lords, as a planner, I do not accept that you can do twenty years' planning. If you cannot plan in twenty years, you cannot plan. This, I think, is fundamental to the whole of this process. I am not casting blame as between the old Trustees, the new Trustees and the various Governments that have been in power, but twenty years is too long, as I hope to show a little later.
This particular plan of 1951 went to public inquiry in 1952 and was finally passed by the Minister in 1955. In 1961 it was reviewed, and in the review of 1961 the only mention of the Library site is in a short paragraph (paragraph 601) which says, very laconically:A site remains designated for the National Library in the university area South of the British Museum".That is the only mention it has had so far, and that was in 1961, in a plan presented to the Minister on review.
The events of 1962, 1964 and 1966 will be far better known to other Members of your Lordships' House, and particularly to the Trustees of the Museum who will be speaking in this debate. But it is now 1967, and, in the meantime, two extremely important planning changes have taken place in this very area. The first one is the proposal to move Covent Garden. I thought the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, in opening this debate, rather thought that there would still be cauliflowers in Covent Garden. It is my impression that if this job is done properly there will be no cauliflowers in Covent Garden; and, with the opening up of the Opera House, of Drury Lane and of St. Paul's Church 1154 and the Piazza, Covent Garden may very well become one of the most favoured areas of Central London, as indeed it was always intended to be.
The second big change is the vast reorganisation proposals affecting St. Pancras and King's Cross stations. My Lords, do not let us just think of these as a series of platforms with ticket offices at the end. These proposals will release, on reorganisation, a vast acreage of land for redevelopment, and redevelopment which will carry no re-housing commitment with it at all. I think it would be foolish for any Government to forge ahead on a proposal which has not materialised in twenty years without giving some thought to the changed planning proposals that can now be considered by us to-day.
Finally, is there a lesson in all this for us? I think there is. I think that if you work in a totally built-up city, as we do, you should not put the blighting hand of designation on land for twenty years. Because it is a blighting hand, my Lords. Property will not get improved, it will not be modernised; sellers cannot sell and buyers will not buy; and you only create incredible difficulties for the people who occupy and own property in the area that is designated. The only real basis on which designation should take place is that it is almost for immediate acquisition. I therefore come back to this same point: that twenty years is too long. If the Library were there, as it seems to me it could have been within a span of twenty years, then we should not be having this argument this afternoon.
I suppose the path of Government can never be very smooth, but certainly I think your Lordships have given it an ironic twist this week. On Monday, in this House, your Lordships were demanding a new inquiry. To-day, in this House, your Lordships are demanding that a new inquiry shall not take place. Perhaps, as it is the season of the year when we get to pantomimes, the best thing the Government could do would be to hire a fairy queen with her magic wand and transform the Trustees of the British Museum into the farmers of Essex and the farmers of Essex into the Trustees of the British Museum. Then, everybody would be happy—or would they?
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT NORWICH
My Lords, in a debate in which so many of us have had or will have such harsh things to say, it is a great pleasure to be able to begin one's speech with something pleasant, and it really is a very great pleasure for me to be able to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, on his maiden speech this afternoon. I am sure I am speaking for all your Lordships when I say how much we have enjoyed listening to him, how glad we are to have him with us, and how much we look forward to hearing him in the future. The noble Lord, Lord Fiske, also gave us an admirable example of how to be reasoned and lucid, moderate and gentle. I should like very much to be able to follow this example, but I am not at all sure that I shall manage to do so.
I am not so starry-eyed as to think that anything that I or any other Member of your Lordships' House can say this afternoon will have any effect at all upon a Government which have already shown their utter contempt for the opinions of the most distinguished people in the academic life of this country, of Europe and of the U.S.A. That being the case, I wish to speak only very shortly and very humbly; and if I am to declare an interest it cannot be as a Trustee of the British Museum but, in a humble capacity, as an historical researcher. Although normally I find working in the London Library very much more convenient and congenial, I have on countless occasions in the past five years had recourse to the Library of the British Museum, and I yield to no one in my admiration for the services that they render, my sympathy for the problems they have to face and my horror at the situation in which they now find themselves.
My Lords, I do not wish to dwell—I am not qualified to do so—on the very vexed question of consultation with the Trustees. Reading in the newspapers this morning Mr. Wilson's letter to Lord Radcliffe, I was relieved to find that there was no mention—nor the effort to try to suggest—of consultations having been carried through as they should have been. Listening this afternoon to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, once again I am not sure; but whatever the facts may be in regard to consultation with the Trus- 1156 tees of the British Museum, it seems to me that there can be no possible question about that of consultation with Parliament. Is it not equally as important—is it not every bit as vital to the interests of the British Museum and of the nation—as would have been the consultations with the Trustees of the British Museum?
My Lords, we have not been consulted; and now it appears that it is too late. As we were told on October 26, and as we were reminded by the Prime Minister in his letter published this morning, what we are debating this afternoon is a fait accompli. I shall therefore leave to others, who can bring to bear far heavier artillery than I can, discussion of the question of consultation. I should like to dwell for a moment not on the question of the propriety or otherwise of the Government's handling of the affair, but on the sheer folly of it. Let us take for a moment the statement which was made in this House on October 26. I will read an extract from it:The London Borough of Camden, who are the local planning authority … made formal objections and these have been under consideration. The Government … have decided on balance that the borough's objections to the plan should be upheld."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26/10/67, col. 1797.]This sounds absolutely splendid—and would have been but for the fact that on November 3 we read in a letter to The Times from the Chairman of the Planning and Development Committee of the London Borough of Camden:… the building of a National Library transcends local issues and being, we hope, neither obscurantist nor Philistine we have never voiced outright opposition nor objected to the scheme in principle. … We do not know what factors influenced the Government in reaching their decision, but I doubt whether Camden wields such influence, that their views were the sole reason for rejecting the scheme.I note that in his letter the Prime Minister made great play of the fact that since this letter was written the Borough of Camden have passed a motion welcoming the Government's decision. Of course they have; but what possible difference does this make? The Government have given Camden what amounts to an enormous present. The present was unsolicited; it was unexpected; and to this day the Borough of Camden has no idea why it has it. But the least it can do is to say, "Thank you" and accept it gracefully; and that is all it has done.
1157 So now, my Lords, we have two howlers. First, we have been told that the Trustees were consulted—they were not. Then the Government say that the decision was taken on the grounds of the objection by the Borough of Camden; now we are told by the Borough of Camden that they did not object. The Statement made on October 26 from which I have already quoted, went on to say:In reaching this decision the Government have also had in mind that the present pattern of national library services is a patchwork.…Up to a point, I agree. Some of the periphery of the national library pattern is, indeed, a bit of a patchwork. But it is not at the periphery; it is at the centre where this dire Government surgery is being threatened.
What have we at the centre? We have what is almost certainly the greatest library in the world; we have what is almost certainly the greatest museum collection in the world. They are linked together in one unified whole and together they comprise one of the most extraordinary, marvellous and unique museums in the civilisation of the world. It is the envy of all other nations; it is unparalleled and unique. This unity would have been preserved by the plan on which successive Governments have been sitting for the last twenty years—and let us remember that it is already forty years ago that a Royal Commission described the problem of expansion of the British Museum as "urgent", and it is this unity that the Government are now proposing to destroy.
The Government have decided to set up a small independent committee. I do not want to go over ground already covered admirably by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, but it seems to me that the point which should be stressed is that if this committee—as it may, and as it seems to me it will have to do—after looking the facts in the face recommends that the Library and Museums must continue to live together, and that the Library itself must not be divided, the Government are going to find themselves in the most impossible position of having got rid of the only site which would have made this unity a possibility, a site on which more than £2 million has already been spent.
1158 So much for the original Statement—a tale of gloom which the Prime Minister's letter this morning has done little to relieve. The only conceivable shaft of light which we can find there—if light it can be called—is the suggestion that probably, or possibly, the Library will continue to be housed in London. This is a suggestion which, to any reasonable man, would appear self-evident; it is only here that it comes as a sort of glimmer of glorious common sense in an otherwise unrelieved saga of idiocy. And even on this the Prime Minister found it necessary to hedge by presenting it as being merely the personal view of his Secretary of State for Science and Education—which is, I should have thought, hardly the most scintillating of recommendations.
I have very little more that I want to say. I shall certainly not insult your Lordships' intelligence by going on now to give any reasons why it seems to me desirable for a national library to be centrally and accessibly placed. All I would do before I sit down is to make one more plea—which I know will go unheard; but I must make it—for the continued unity of the Museum and Library and, in particular, for the continued unity of the Library itself. Knowledge is, and always will be, indivisible. In this age of specialisation run riot, where more and more people are learning more and more about less and less, now, more than ever, it is vital for the sum total of mankind's knowledge to be grouped together under one roof—if this is possible. In most other civilised countries of the world, this would be an in accessible pipe-dream for which they would be prepared to make practically any sacrifice if they could achieve it. But they cannot. We have it. Here it is a reality; and it is this reality, my Lords, that we are now proposing to throw away.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, may I first add my congratulations to those already extended to my noble friend Lord Fiske upon the outstanding and, indeed, brilliant maiden speech to which we have just listened. It had all the virtues of a maiden speech. It was commendably brief; it was not very controversial, and it was most informative and instructive. 1159 I am sure your Lordships will look forward to hearing from him again frequently, not only on matters of this kind, but on matters on which he can speak with particular authority.
I hope that it may be possible for a very long-serving, and I hope faithful, member of the Labour Party, and a supporter of the present Government, to take a different view about the merits or demerits of the exact site upon which the new National Library should be placed from that of the Government, and even from the way in which the Government arrive at their decision. It was because I am impelled to disagree on both those matters so strongly that I felt obliged to put down my name to speak—although, for some reason or other which I do not understand, my name was omitted from the first list of speakers. I think it would be useful if, very shortly, I narrated the recent history of this matter.
I go back to 1951. The National Library has of course been on the present site for many years, hundreds of years, and it is a tradition that it should be there. But in 1951 the Bloomsbury site was designated in the County of London Development Plan (and that is confirmed by my noble friend) as a site for a National Library. Under the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, to which my noble friend referred, it was necessary to have an inquiry. There was a full inquiry on the Development Plan and on the question whether this particular area should be a site for a National Library. I believe that the inquiry lasted many weeks, but eventually, in 1955, the Minister came to a decision approving the Development Plan and approving the site as a site for a National Library. I am glad the noble Baroness did not say that this was a conditional appoval, because I have heard it said that it was not a firm approval. Of course it was conditional upon detailed plans being approved; but, subject to that, it was quite a firm approval in principle.
Apparently nothing much happened until 1962, that is, for seven years. Then a plan was commissioned for an outline proposal by two eminent architects—a fact which has been referred to. At 1160 the same time the Government of the day began to acquire the necessary land in order to carry out this proposal. I hope that no Government spends sums of the order of £1½ million in acquiring land if the purpose for which the land is being acquired is uncertain. There must have been quite a definite and clear conception that this was to be the site of the National Library and, as I say, £1½ million was spent in acquiring the land.
When the present Government came to office they continued to purchase, and spent £500,000 on acquiring further land. Whatever one may think of the previous Government, I am quite sure that my own Government would not have spent £500,000 on buying land unless they had been convinced about the purpose of the acquisition. They went on buying land, and to-day nearly two-thirds of the area of this site has been acquired. The noble Lord, Lord Fiske, referred to the fact that this site has been designated for twenty years and that that was far too long. But when the great Act that he was kind enough to refer to was framed this was taken into consideration, because there are provisions for a review. Theoretically, there should be a review of the Plan every five years, or at any rate the local planning authorities have the opportunity to review the Plan every five years. In fact there was a review of the County of London Development Plan in 1961, and the then Minister came to exactly the same conclusion: that this was a suitable site, and the right site, for a National Library.
May I say, in passing, my Lords, that the proper machinery for any change in the Plan is laid down in the 1947 Act and now in the 1962 Act. It is that there has to be a review of the Plan, and if the local planning authority decides to change its mind there has to be a review. Anybody concerned, or indeed anybody who is not particularly concerned, has the right to object; and in that event there is a public inquiry. That, my Lords, is the right way to change the designation of an area. If the Minister had thought it right to change his mind about whether the Bloomsbury site was the most suitable for a National Library, surely his proper course would have been to have the County of London Development Plan modified and to state where 1161 he thought the site should be, and for there to be a full public inquiry into the matter. If that had been done I think everyone would have been satisfied.
In my view, my Lords, the existing site is by far the best and, prima facie, I see no reason for looking round for any other site. The Covent Garden site might conceivably be better. I would not dispute that there may be something to be said for it, when in due course it is obtained (I do not know when that will be), if the price is not too extravagant, as I fear it may be. But, at any rate, it is worth considering, if the Government want to make a change. And so is St. Pancras or Euston, or any other railway station, if and when they are going to get it. But so far that is only talk. It has still to be shown that there is some reason why we should depart from this site, which everyone has accepted for so many years.
My own difficulty is that no case has been made out. The points that have been put forward—I would call them points, not justifications—have really been frivolous. I do not think that they are worth taking into consideration seriously. The re-housing of a few hundred people, however important that may be, is not something that must be carried out on this particular site. We are constantly moving people all over London. In my time, I was successively chairman of the Housing Committee and of the Town Planning Committee of the London County Council, and in my experience of housing we were constantly moving people from one borough right across London to other boroughs, and no serious objection was taken to it. There would be no difficulty in re-housing a few hundred people in another part of the Borough of Camden, or even outside Camden. And over a period of years the number to be re-housed would surely tend to dwindle, and in the end we should not need to rehouse that number. This is really a frivolous objection. With great respect, my noble friend Lady Phillips was asked to put it forward, and I do not blame her for doing it. It was in her brief and she had to use it. But, really, it is not a great compliment to this House to put forward an argument of this kind as a reason for making so dramatic a change.
1162 I will not trouble your Lordships with the other objections, because they have been dealt with. I feel that the wise thing for the Minister to do now, in spite of the fact that we are told that the matter is settled, would be to hold a public inquiry. I am not at all sure—I may have to take counsel's opinion on it—that the Minister is even acting legally within the terms of the Planning Acts. I do not know whether he can arbitrarily, at the request of some borough—or, as now appears, not even at the request of a borough—change the designation of an area without reference to anybody and without a public inquiry. I think that it is a monstrous thing to do. It undermines the whole conception of public planning. What is the point of having a public inquiry, lasting weeks and weeks and on which tens of thousands of pounds have been spent, coming to a decision, when the Minister can arbitrarily one day—on October 26—announce that he has decided to modify this, and that what had been settled and accepted for many years is no longer going to take place.
What about the various people who are affected by this decision of two Ministers, one in 1952 and the other in 1961? Are they not to have an opportunity of expressing their views? So, in spite of what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said to-day about this decision being fixed and incapable of being varied, I still hope that he will take counsel's opinion before he finally makes up his mind. I am fairly confident that he will be advised that what he is doing is unconstitutional and that therefore, if the Government want to pursue this matter, there will be a full public inquiry as to what is the best location for this central Library.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ LORD EVANS OF HUNGERSHALL
My Lords, it would require a strange form of arrogance not to feel diffident on addressing your Lordships' House on the first occasion. This feeling is mitigated by the knowledge of the courtesy which extends through all your Lordships' debates, a courtesy which is combined with something like a gentle compassion when one addresses the House on the first occasion on what is, it seems to me, oddly called a "maiden" speech. 1163 My noble friend Lork Fiske and I are the two "maidens" this afternoon.
From a sort of academic curiosity, I looked up the Oxford Dictionary and I found that one of the meanings of "maiden" is "serves no useful purpose". Of course, that does not apply to the speech of my noble friend to which we have just listened with great interest, but it may well apply to my own contribution. I hope that it will not apply to this debate as a whole, for this is an issue which ultimately has no political connotation whatever. It is an issue on which the Secretary of State might well yield to the voice of scholarship expressed throughout Christendom and beyond.
I realise that in compensation for this tolerance extended to a maiden speech one should be brief and uncontroversial. As to brevity, I can assure your Lordships, but this is an issue on which it would be a major achievement to say nothing that was not in some way or other controversial. I should like to thank the noble Baroness who informed the House of the Government's intention in the first place for not making this a matter of political controversy. I would thank her again to-day for her contribution in which she tried to limit the elements of controversy that are involved. I would have waited far longer before venturing to address your Lordships, but in this matter I have a particular involvement. I am one of the Trustees of the British Museum, who are becoming a more and more jaded crowd as this debate proceeds, and I also have the honour of being Chairman of its Printed Books Committee.
I shall not dwell this afternoon on the way in which this incomprehensible statement was made in the first place. We, as Trustees of the British Museum, are not worried much about the discourtesy. I recall a remark of Mr. Truman: "If you cannot stand the heat, then you must get out of the kitchen". But we feel, and feel grievously, the discourtesy which was extended to our Chairman, my noble friend Lord Radcliffe, whose name is revered in all areas where learning and culture and the arts are cherished in this country. But this question of whether the Trustees have been consulted or not is a temporary matter. The real issue 1164 is how to mitigate what some of us genuinely consider is a disaster.
In the statement made by the Department of Education and Science there are two very distinct issues. The first is that the extension of the British Museum as has now been planned, keeping together a national library and the great national collections, would reduce, but only in a modest degree, the housing which is available on the proposed Library site. No good citizen would wish in any way to take lightly the grave housing issue in central London, but all expert opinion—and on this matter I have consulted a great deal of expert opinion—is agreed that within the planning scheme for Central London this modest degree of housing could be easily accommodated. Some of us who know this area have watched with distress those endless acres of the Marylebone Goods Yard left idle and unused for over a decade when they could have housed 5,000 people. I should like to ask, if the housing question can be solved on a reasonably planned basis, would not the Department of Education and Science, and, indeed, would not the Government, consider once again the Bloomsbury site in all its aspects?
But we have come to realise that there is not merely an issue involving the Camden Planning Authority. Indeed, one has reason to believe that if the whole matter had been discussed with the Greater London Authority—and in listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, I did not hear him say that the Greater London Authority had been consulted—and the Greater London Authority, the Camden authority, the Ministry and the Trustees had been brought together, from a purely housing point of view we could have solved this matter without its ever having been brought to your Lordships' attention.
But there is a second issue, and it is a more severe one and reflects a view honestly held. There are elements, and some of them are present in the Ministry of Education and Science, who are against a single national library; who believe that sectional libraries, and particularly a sectional library for science and technology, would be more effective. As the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, mentioned, the Government themselves set up a Committee, years ago now, to consider 1165 these matters under the chairmanship of Dr. Thomas Parry; and I was interested to see that he was one of the signatories to the Memorial recently addressed to the Prime Minister, supporting the new Library at Bloomsbury. As the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, said, we, as Trustees, welcomed the Report of the Parry Committee, for, apart from negligible details, they commended the new Library as a single national library on the Bloomsbury site. I have the impression, though, that scientists and technologists feel that they will not get all that they want from the National Library. It has always been recognised that the Library of Contemporary Science and Technology should be an open reference library. Such it is to-day. But how much more effective it could be under one roof with the rest of learning!
The Department of Education and Science have now set up a new Committee, just as if the Parry Committee had never existed and had not reported in favour of a single national library on the Bloomsbury site. If the work of Government Committees, such as the Parry Committee, is so quickly set aside, it may be that the good will of voluntary service in this country will ultimately be exhausted, and we should remember, I think, how much we as a nation still depend upon voluntary service. The Chairman, Dr. Dainton, is one who is respected and trusted in all quarters—though as he is the Chairman of the Advisory Committee to the Secretary of State on Scientific and Technological Information, one would have expected to find him as an expert witness, and not in the chair.
I would enter only one plea, and it has already been entered by a number of noble Lords this afternoon. It is—and this is the modest plea that we all make—that there should be within the terms of reference of the Dainton Committee the question whether the National Library should remain where it is on the Bloomsbury site; whether the collections should remain with the Library; and whether the best site for the new Library should be there, on the proposed Bloomsbury site. If that decision is not within the remit of the Dainton Committee—and at the moment it would appear from the Prime Minister's letter to the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, that it is not— 1166 then Dr. Dainton is merely leading his Committee into laborious paths, painfully bur uselessly, for all has already been concluded by ministerial dictation.
Let me, in conclusion, merely summarise what I believe is the disaster to learning in this country, and to the study of science in this country, if we do not have ultimately one national library. For it is from a comprehensive national library that all other libraries will gain their bibliographical and cataloguing information, and the expense for this and the skilled staff will be such (for it will all have to be computerised) that it can exist only in one place. Further, the bifurcation of library facilities into separate isolated entities is totally reactionary at a time when learning is increasingly becoming one and indivisible—medicine, for instance, becoming increasingly dependent on physics and chemistry. It will be a most severe setback to all that this country can achieve in science and learning. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Snow, here this afternoon and still happier to see that he is going to speak later in the debate. He has told us about the peril of the two cultures, and I am confident that he will realise the dangers of not having one National Library.
Let us not forget that two great architects, Sir Leslie Martin and Mr. Cohn St. John Wilson, spent over two years in developing these most ingenious plans. Putting up a library is not like putting up a chicken house. The access to books and other complicated problems have been solved on this site. Further, the Library alone has a staff of 626 members, apart from subordinate staff. These 626 people joined the Library because they believed that one day they would work under decent conditions; and they know that their sole hope in their own lifetime is the Bloomsbury site. Anyone who has worked in Central London, as I have done for many years, and has had to try to find a site (I was rather sad that the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, made slighting reference to University College, but I see that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, is speaking later in the debate and I will leave that to him), will know that there are no available sites in Central London.
As for the Covent Garden site, under the Act of 1966 it will not be cleared until 1972, and it will not be developed until 1167 1980, even if every most optimistic factor plays in the favour of those concerned. Meanwhile, those who have the Covent Garden site, being sensible men, are already planning what they are going to do with it; and I am given to understand that there are not seven empty acres that at present are unapplied to any purpose.
This decision—I regret to have to say it—is to take a surgeon's knife and to use it for plain butchery, and so to destroy the hopes of learning and science not only in the United Kingdom but in all parts of the world, and particularly for many of our distinguished friends in the United States. It would, indeed, be the ultimate irony if his Department which has done so much—I think, for instance, of all it has done to build up the Arts Council to a stronger position than it has ever had before—this Department that has conceived the concept of the Open University of the Air, should at the same time destroy what is in reality the most democratic university on the ground that Western Europe has known for the last century.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CRANBROOK
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be the first to be able to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Hungershall, on his maiden speech, and, indeed, as I am speaking after the noble, Lord, Lord Fiske, to congratulate him, also. The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Hungershall, was doubtful about the definition of a virgin. I was thinking of the Lord High Chancellor's "elderly maiden daughters" when I recollected that there was another adjective referring to their faces, though it is one which I am quite certain could not have applied either to him or to the noble Lord, Lord Fiske.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Hungershall, I had hoped that we should get through this debate this afternoon without debating whether or not the Minister should or should not have consulted this body or that. I am myself a member of the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries, a body which was set up precisely to be consulted on problems like this. But neither the Minister nor the Government saw fit to consult us, though had we been so consulted we might have been able to give them very good advice and got them out of the 1168 difficulties in which they find themselves. But, my Lords, a failure to admit you have made a mistake, and indeed a failure to be ready to say you are sorry when you have been rude, are little human failings which are not confined to Ministers. We meet them in all walks of life; and, by and large, I have always found it best not to worry too much about them.
The Minister in another place said that the Camden objections were not the only ones affecting this decision. There was a bigger one: the great question of the organisation of our national libraries, which he said were in a state of confusion, overlapping and unco-ordinated; and he demanded a committee to look into them. The Prime Minister, in his letter quoted in the Press this morning, dotted the "i's" and crossed the "t's" of that, and went on specifically to mention the libraries which he thought needed investigating. They were the British Museum Library, the National Central Library, the National Lending Library of Science and Technology, and the Science Museum Library attached to the Science Museum. He did not mention the National Lending Library; he did not mention the new proposed National Reference Library for Science and Invention, although the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, did.
In point of fact, the development of those five Libraries over the past twenty years has been arranged in such a way as to get rid of any possibility of overlapping and lack of co-ordination. When it was first suggested that the British Museum Library should be moved on to the Bloomsbury site, the only other national library at that moment, save for the Science Library, was the National Central Library. That is not a reference library; it is not really a lending library. Its stock of books is very small, not more than about 300,000. What the National Lending Library does is to co-ordinate the work of the other lending libraries in the country, the municipal libraries and the libraries of such bodies as the Linnean Society and the Zoological Society. It your own library cannot produce a book for you, they will write to the National Central Library, who will produce it from somewhere else. The functions of a reference library to which people go to consult books, and from which books may not 1169 be taken away, is entirely different from that of a lending library.
The Trustees of the British Museum decided, way back in 1945, very wisely, that the functions were so widely separated that the two Libraries could not be put together and should be kept separate—the first step which prevented overlapping and muddle and lack of coordination. The British Museum Library, then, was to move on to the Bloomsbury site, where it would continue to receive, under the Copyright Act, all the books and periodicals published in this country. It would continue to buy such additional books and periodicals as the Trustees saw fit and as their finances allowed. But as the output of scientific literature increased enormously, much of it published abroad, most of it not obtainable through the National Central Library, it was decided to set up a National Lending Library for Science and Technology. That was eventually built at Boston Spa. It was very rightly kept separate from the National Reference Library, a decision to which Governments of both Parties have agreed; and again confusion and overlapping were prevented.
Finally, it was decided that there should be a National Reference Library for Science and Invention to be built round the Patent Office Library when it was moved. This again was accepted by both political Parties. The new library was to be set up on the South Bank. But a very important decision was reached: it was to be under the Trustees of the British Museum. We were, in fact, to have one National Reference Library, both for the sciences and for the humanities, under one body of Trustees, a very proper arrangement with which I think everybody concerned—the scientists, those dealing with the humanities and the libraries—would agree; and one which I was very glad to find the noble Lord who has just sat down commended, with an eloquence which I am afraid is not at my disposal. That was another decision which again prevented confusion and overlapping. I think the Trustees were faced with a difficult decision: whether or not to accept that Library on the South Bank; because they, and all of us, were agreed that it would be far better if the whole of the National Reference Library was on one site. They were in a difficult 1170 position. The literature was accumulating rapidly, the scientists were pressing for their reference library, and it looked then as if it was likely to be built pretty quickly and would be filled long before the Bloomsbury site was available.
Your Lordships will see that the old post-war policy of successive Governments has resulted in a library organisation which prevents confusion, avoids overlapping, and is pretty well co-ordinated. I am inclined to think that this has come much more by chance than by design, because the Minister in another place, and the Prime Minister in his letter to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, apparently disclaimed any responsibility, and I doubt whether noble Lords on this side of the House would claim that it was part of any great, dynamic design. But, of course, it is sheer nonsense to suggest there is any necessity to set up any committee to investigate this problem. We have a quite clear-cut, well co-ordinated system of national libraries, which requires no further investigation and about which the Minister must be fully informed.
There are a number of other problems to be resolved, but they are problems which do not affect the Bloomsbury or any other site. Most of them were mentioned in the Parry Committee's Report, and, as that Report says, they have been much discussed in library circles for many years: who should provide the national bibliographical information service; who should organise the planning, and librarians, and the like. These are important questions, but they do not affect the choice of the site where our National Reference Library is to go.
There is also the problem of the administration of the British Museum itself; whether the Trustees should continue to be responsible for both the collections and the Library. Like many others, I think the two should be separated, and that a Library should be set up on its own, with its own body of Trustees, and that the collections should have their own body of Trustees. I think that to run both the National Reference Library and the collections of antiquities is too big a job for one body of Trustees and one Director.
I think I need only just touch on the libraries. The National Lending Library 1171 for Science and Technology and the National Central Library should probably be amalgamated. I should like to see them amalgamated under a body of Trustees, which I think would be more successful administratively than the present rather loose connection with the noble Baroness's Ministry. One of them is supposed to deal with the sciences, and the other with the humanities, but there is the overlapping when you come to the social sciences. There are certain signs of empire building on both sides, and I think that is one place where there is possible overlapping in our national library services.
I think I need only just touch on the problem of a National Abstracting Service. That has been discussed among scientists for many years. It must be set up in relation to one or other of the scientific libraries, either the National Lending Library for Science and Technology, or our National Reference Library; and I should think the latter. But that is probably a matter on which one of the advisory councils should be asked to report. It certainly wants looking into.
Even though decisions of that sort have to be taken, I cannot see the usefulness of the Minister's proposed committee. He has, or he should have, all the relevant facts in front of him already. He must have seen the Report of the Parry Committee, he must be aware of what is wanted, and he must have enough material available on which to publish at least tentative conclusions as a basis for discussion on which the British Museum, the National Central Library, the special libraries and the municipal libraries could all comment. That indeed would be consultation. That indeed would be an infinitely better way of doing it than what he has done, and we might get somewhere.
Through all this, I must confess that what has surprised me has been the reaction of the Trustees, not in their opposition to the Minister's decision about the Bloomsbury site, but the reasons they have given for it by statements, by letters to the Press and, not least, by that rather curious stimulated petition which was sent to the Prime Minister and reported in the Press. I do not like criticising the Trustees, because they are a body of 1172 men for whose judgment in their other capacities I have the greatest respect. I certainly would not think of saying anything about them if I felt there was the slightest possibility of the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, speaking after me and criticising what I have said. But I find it surprising that they and the signatories to that petition seem to look upon the Library merely as an adjunct to the collections. I know of individuals and learned bodies who were asked to sign who felt that it showed a complete lack of appreciation of the real functions of a National Reference Library, and that it was just an exhibition of nostalgic affection for the status quo. I must confess I certainly think so myself.
It is obviously convenient for some people sometimes to have the collections adjacent to the Library. I have worked, like the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, in the Reading Room, and I can well recollect at one time finding variants of a small 16th century illustrated book both in the Reading Room and in the Department of Prints and Drawings. It would not have hurt me to take that book to South Kensington or Pimlico if the two had been separated. It seems to me quite extraordinary to plead that as one of the reasons for keeping the Bloomsbury site. Anybody doing any research anywhere expects to have to travel a certain amount. At one period, I spent many hours in the Reading Room and I, and the many other people there like me, engaged probably in some bibliographical or literary investigation—and I think we were the majority of the people in the Reading Room—had no call to go into the Museum itself, though I must confess it was a nice way of spending one's lunch hour or the period when one was waiting for a book to be produced.
Similiarly, it is economically convenient to use the main Library as a collection of departmental libraries. But all these departmental libraries have grown very considerably since the war and, if it were necessary, could be built up still more, just as has had to happen in close proximity to the Science Museum Library in South Kensington, which for many years has been virtually the departmental library of Imperial College, who over recent years have been building up their own library so that they can exist on their 1173 own, and in particular when a great many of their periodicals were sent to Boston Spa to build up the National Lending Library of Science and Technology.
In point of fact, so far as the Library itself is concerned, the National Reference Library for the sciences and humanities, it does not really matter whether it is in Bloomsbury, Chelsea, Paddington or anywhere else, provided, and provided always, that the whole of our literature, both scientific and other, is on the one site and in Central London. I must confess that as I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, my heart leapt within me, because quite honestly I would infinitely prefer to see the Library at St. Pancras, where, if the platforms and the like are to be made available very soon, the building could start almost immediately, and there would be sufficient space, I understand, to house both the existing Library and the Lending Library for Science and Invention. In that way we should get what we all want very much quicker.
What the Trustees must face up to is that as custodians of the Library they are custodians of something which is quite distinct from the collections. They are both of vital importance to this country. The Library, I think, is of possibly greater importance than the collections as being the real centre of our culture. They must be prepared to accept another site if it is better for the Library.
I hope that the Government will reverse their decision. I agree with the Trustees that if it is at all possible it is better to keep the Bloomsbury site, and I think that ought to be thrown into the pool. I hope, too, that a new body of Trustees will then be set up responsible only for the Library. I think that the Minister has made the greatest of mistakes. I think the Trustees have made rather less mistakes.
In conclusion, I should like to commend to the Government and the Trustees a quotation from the works of a well-known politician which were brought to my attention this morning. Perhaps I may quote to your Lordships the ipsissima verba:One is taught by mistakes and setbacks; we become wiser and handle our affairs better. It is hard for any political Party or any person to avoid mistakes but we should make as few as possible. Once a mistake is made we should 1174 correct it and the more quickly and thoroughly the better.That is one of the statements of Chairman Mao.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ LORD SNOW
My Lords, my first duty, and a most pleasant one, is to add my congratulations to those which have already been expressed to my noble friend Lord Fiske, and to my noble and personal friend Lord Evans of Hungershall. I think everyone here enjoyed the speeches of both noble Lords: for their wit, their complete composure and the distinction which they brought to this House; and we all mean more than a formality when we say that we hope we shall hear them often. That is the pleasantest part of what has happened this afternoon, because there have been many harsh and bitter words said in this House—I think the harshest that I have heard since I became a Member of your Lordships' House. I will say at once that I have the greatest regret for the way in which the Trustees have been treated. I think it right that someone, a private person sitting on these Benches, should express this regret straight away, and I shall in fact return to it.
That said, I should like to take a somewhat different course from that which has been normal in this debate. We have heard two extremely important and, to me, extremely disturbing debates here this week, one on Stansted and one this afternoon. It is not so much the results of what we say, or what will be decided, that disturbs me, as the impact of these administrative—not political—decisions upon our whole political process and our whole climate of thought. Here I shall have to weary your Lordships a little later on because I want to extend this thought. I believe that there are far more dangers in what is happening than in the decisions themselves.
In many ways, curiously enough, as the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, pointed out, these two cases have a certain formal resemblance. In both cases the discussion has been going on for many years. The suggestion about Stansted started in 1953, the suggestion about the Bloomsbury site somewhat earlier; and these considerations have gone through successive Governments, successive sets of civil servants and what-not, and in the 1175 long run a decision has been made on each: but curiously enough, a different decision. You really cannot have it both ways. You can blame the Government for one or the other. I find it somewhat difficult to blame them for both. In the one case, that of Stansted, as the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, pointed out, the Government are asked to reverse a set of considerations or plans (call them what you like) which have been going on for a long time. In the other case, the Government are abused, rather as though they were criminals, for reversing a chain of argument which has also gone on for a long time.
I must here declare where I stand. On Stansted, I am afraid I must say that it will take far stronger arguments than any I have heard put up to make me feel that this project should proceed without further inquiry. On that I am completely immovable. I have heard nothing which seems to me to justify the decision in its present stage.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, may I raise one point with the noble Lord?— I am listening with the greatest of interest? He seemed to think that the line taken in criticism of the Government on these two occasions was inconsistent. But surely he overlooks the fact that in both cases the Government are totally disregarding the result of a public inquiry?
§ LORD SNOW
My Lords, I was proposing to come to that a little later. On the subject of the Museum I can, with some dubiety and without enormous enthusiasm, at least accept the Secretary of State's decision. I say that in a quite tentative way, but I just can, for reasons which I shall come to a little later—and they are really close to those which were just given by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and which in my case owe something to my acquaintance with professional librarians.
I would add that I take somewhat more seriously than the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to whom I bow in this matter (because he has forgotten more about housing than I have ever known), the uprooting of a thousand people or so and the destruction of a part of London which has its own charm. It is not a thing that can be written off quite so 1176 lightly as it has been written off this afternoon. My objection to Stansted is, in fact, that technological efficiency is being given a complete priority over human needs. My tendency in regard to the Museum—I will put it no stronger than that—is to feel that scholarly efficiency is perhaps being preferred to a less dramatic human need.
But I want now to come to what seems to me to be a significant feature of this whole business. The real trouble is that these two decisions have aroused most violent worry, anger and indignation among responsible people, partly for the reason of which the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has just reminded us, but also, I think, for some deeper and darker reason than that. I feel that this Government, and perhaps all Governments, are in danger of alienating persons who are not within the political community. If this is true, it is serious, as we run a particular kind of parliamentary democracy, unlike that of any other country I know, except perhaps Sweden. It has almost every possible disadvantage, except that all other systems are slightly worse and if you have lived under any other system you begin to realise that we in this country gain great advantage out of this bizarre system. However, it has one really drastic disadvantage: that it is almost impossible to get anything done in it. Anyone who has ever been in office, or has even been a civil servant, will know the maddening frustration of the long and complicated set of processes which are required to get even the most minor decision ever made.
This is the real trouble about our particular sort of parliamentary democracy as opposed, to, say, presidential democracy. The result—not, I am sure, by conscious plan, but by a curious interweaving set of pressures—is that Governments and administrators in this country have more and more taken to performing in secret. There are far more secret decisions made to-day than when our society was less articulated, and certainly far more than serious persons outside the political community can easily accept. When I find, for instance, Henry Moore objecting to the Stansted scheme, then I take his objection much more seriously than that of any person within the administrative frame, because on this question 1177 of human need his judgment will be better, and he is obviously really deeply set apart from those of us who have to take some part in the legislative process.
This tendency to secrecy is worrying everybody and is, I believe, having more effect than is generally realised. No one knows how the original idea of Stansted was first conceived. But I will bet that it came from a small group of people, perfectly honestly, as far back as 1953; and since that time there has been no real possibility, unless there was an abnormally strong-minded Minister, of ever getting it altered. I believe that with a Tory Government, and with a great deal of trouble from our side, Stansted would still have been the chosen site. I think that perhaps with the British Museum that is not true.
This kind of decision working forwards in time, long before the thing is apparently settled, suggests to most of us a horrible phrase which I will now recommend to the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. It is a piece of jargon used by students of thought: that all this is hypothetico-deductive, which means, in plain English, that the answer is known before the proof is found, and the whole of the rest of the years of argument are really justifying an idea which was settled on in the beginning—and settled on by intuition and not by reason. There is nothing discreditable about this. It is the way all science is done, contrary to the rationalisations about it. But if it is done in secret it can be very dangerous, because unless we can expose these hypothetico-deductive concepts to the public gaze at an early time, we are bound to appear to be conducting our affairs in a conspiratorial fashion.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that, if in fact they are false, the only way of showing their falseness is by discussing them in public?
§ LORD SNOW
My Lords, that is precisely what I am saying. This is becoming something of a real national disease. If either the Stansted matter or this matter of the British Museum had occurred in the United States or Sweden, it would have been far more thoroughly and fully discussed in public before a really irrevocable decision was taken. I suggest to your Lordships that, whatever 1178 our disagreements on the particular problems, this is something to which, unless we are going to lose responsible persons from being linked with us in any way, we must give serious thought. We must in fact, as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, said, be much more candid. I am afraid, however, that the noble Viscount in his speech rather over-stated his case, and I believe he has done some faint harm to the democratic process by the tone in which it was couched. It will lead people to think, even more than they do at present, that politicians and civil servants are both wicked and stupid. They are neither of those things. They are caught in the same trap as the rest of us.
I should like to go on to say that this excessive secrecy leads to the grossest mishandling of personal considerations. It is to my mind intolerable that the Trustees should have been asked to accept a fait accompli without serious discussion. I am sorry that my noble friend Lady Phillips had to defend the indefensible. We do far too much defending the indefensible. The idea that the Trustees were in any sort of sense consulted makes no grammatic or semantic sense. We cannot have it. Let us use sharper and plainer words.
On the particular issue of the Museum, I find myself in more or less complete agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. The reason I do so is partly because of my concern for the dis-housed and my faint nostalgic feeling for Bloomsbury, but mainly because the view of professional librarians gives no help to either side in this argument but is well thought out and clearly expressed. Curiously enough, I was for a year President of the Librarians' Association. Why, I can never discover. I think that they must have tried to get a writer just to show that they were not opposed to books. But I have always found them remarkably detached, highly intelligent and, of course, highly professional.
What they say—and I talked to them this morning in order to equip myself for your Lordships' debate—is that in their view the absolute requirements are these. First, the Library should be split from the rest of the Museum and should have different Trustees; the job is professionally too complicated to combine. Secondly, all the big national reference 1179 libraries should certainly be in Central London, the Bloomsbury site not being ruled out—they are very positive about that. Thirdly, if possible (and this is exactly the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Hungershall), all these libraries should be in one large complex in order to avoid the danger of fractionalisation which the noble Lord spoke about so eloquently and to which I subscribe. If that is done, it seems to me slightly irrelevant whether a Library is actually on a site next to the Museum or not. That seems to me to be, on the whole, very secondary.
Here I would suggest that the Trustees have again somewhat over-stated their case. It is a very pleasant thing to have a library next door to a museum, but although I have heard and respected the arguments put up by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, about the liberating effect which this has, I have been trying to relate this to my own experience. When I was in Cambridge for a number of years, I occasionally used the University Library. I never thought that I should gain a great deal if the Fitzwilliam Museum were next door. I do not remember thinking how much better it would be if the Museum were not one mile away. I believe that, although there is something in this consideration, in the pleasant emotional atmosphere of all learning being together, it has been over-weighted. I suspect that it is part of the old academic principle that nothing should ever be separated from anything else. It is good if everything can be kept under one roof or in one group of buildings, but I suggest that it is not an argument which ought to carry overwhelming strength against the rest. But my views on this are unimportant.
My Lords, I would finish by saying that the real meaning of these debates this week is that we are brought up hard against the separation of a section of the responsible community as distinct from the political community. The responsible community is larger than the political community, and in some ways more important. Unless we can link the two together, unless responsible persons feel at one with decision-makers, we are going to have a less homogenous and healthy country than we all wish to see.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ LORD HURCOMB
My Lords, my intervention in this debate will be brief. I intervene partly because I was a Trustee of the Museum before the recent reconstitution of that body, and partly because I happened to be one of those concerned in the selection of the architects for the scheme then in mind. I recollect vividly that before we decided to recommend to our colleagues Sir Leslie Martin and his partners, a choice in which I fully concurred, I myself raised the question of their age. I thought it important that those selected should be men who individually or as a group would remain active in their profession and able to see their scheme well into fruition. The representative of the Ministry of Public Building and Works was able to give us complete reassurances on this point, and in this and every other matter that Department could not have been more wholly co-operative with the Trustees.
It was therefore with amazement that I read the statement in another place that there has never been any firm decision to proceed with the scheme, subject of course to consultations about and adjustments of details. If I may say so in a most friendly spirit to the noble Baroness, to whose speech I listened carefully, I feel that apart from answering the allegations that the Trustees have been insulted or affronted, the Government would do a great deal to satisfy ordinary people if, when they come to announce surprising decisions of this sort, they could avoid doing it in a way which is bound to cause the maximum of irritation—to come down to a lower level of indignation than that very necessarily and properly shown by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe.
The next statement that caused me, and I think most people, almost equal astonishment is the Secretary of State's assertion that he had "never heard any rational argument for keeping the Library and the Museum together." That may be so, if by "rational" is meant an argument of strict logic or some rule of absolute necessity. Of course, valuable research and the pursuit of scholarship are successfully carried on in many cities and centres of the world without this happy conjuncture of collections and books. But to imply that no intelligent argument or opinion can be advanced 1181 for retaining the Library and Museum together when history and good fortune have brought them together, and to condemn any contrary view as a matter of "mere metaphysical faith" and instinctive conservatism is surely quite irrational and utterly unreasonable and, above all, not what one would expect from a Department of Science and also of Education.
I am not going to enlarge on that point, because I think it was completely disposed of by the most reverend Primate. It is indisputable that the collocation of the collections and the books is an immense advantage, and a very great economy of time and manpower to the Museum staff, and to a good many other people who work in the Museum. I should have thought also that it was of very considerable advantage to the University of London whose views, at any rate, one would not expect to be ignored by a Department of Education.
But the real point is that whatever room for argument there is on this point—and I would not dispute a good deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Snow, was saying just now—it is not a question of creating a conjuncture of the collections and the books. We already have it; and every distinguished visitor from abroad that I have ever known has invariably said what a marvellous feature of the Museum that is, and has congratulated us upon it. Many things which this country does or fails to do puzzle our foreign friends, and it just passes their comprehension, and that of a great many other people, that we should throw away this unique advantage when we have it and can easily retain it.
Surely, my Lords, the arguments given for this recent decision hardly bear examination. How can they be a reasonable basis for abandoning a principle which has been so long agreed and a scheme which has been so long approved? They appear to be the alleged Camden objection—that is to say, the rehousing problem—and, to quote the Secretary of State,the obliteration of one of the most dignified and historical areas of London.There are admittedly some features of interest surviving on the West side of Bloomsbury Square, but if any of your Lordships feels any sort of vicarious admiration for the architecture of the 1182 Square in its present form, I would say (if I am not using too dangerous a phrase in speaking in this House) that his remedy for that admiration is to go and look at it.
As to housing, no one underestimates its importance and difficulty. Here it is a problem of rehousing a few hundred people. That kind of objection has not prevented many London improvements; for example, the recent extension of the Marylebone Road to which reference has been made. Here may I say, speaking as a former Chairman of the British Transport Commission, how much I agreed with the suggestion in the brilliant speech of my noble and personal friend Lord Evans of Hungershall, that if only the railways were allowed to use their London properties to greater advantage the housing problem in that area might be solved. I have felt for many years that there is a very great deal of waste of land around Marylebone station. Therefore I cannot think that that is the real ground of the Government's decision.
After all, in the matter of housing schemes the resources of the central Government and of the great London authority are by no means puny; and where there is a will a way can be found. I just refuse to believe that the great London government has fallen to such a degree of administrative impotence as to be unable to solve this problem if it was asked seriously to do so.
I am not going to join in attacks upon the Government for the way in which they have treated the Trustees. If I were still a Trustee I confess that I should feel exactly as they do, and my sympathy is inevitably with them. But some hard things have been said by the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, and indeed by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, about administration. Lord Radcliffe spoke of a serious deterioration in the standards of public administration. As one who has spent his life in public administration, I should be very sorry to think that that was true.
I served for many years under Ministers of all three Parties, and I never met one of them who was anything but anxious to consult in the true spirit all the interests with which he was charged. And I myself regarded it as a cardinal point in any administration to be in close 1183 relationship with all those bodies and groups with whose affairs I might have to interfere. Often, of course, one had to convey to them views of one's Minister which they did not like. Often, no doubt, they suspected oneself of having given advice which was not in line with what they wished one to do. But that one should not be on intimate terms with them, and know their feelings and represent their feelings and give them every opportunity of representing their views—not merely in writing but by personal interviews—would have seemed to me then as just bad administration; and I do not think it can be said that that is general in the Civil Service.
But surely something seems to have gone wrong in this particular Department. Why should all those bodies which have been mentioned to your Lordships as not only charged by Statute with the duty of giving advice but, by their personalities and eminence, are particularly qualified to do so, have been ignored? It is difficult to resist the conclusion that they have been almost entirely ignored, and that resort has been had to a number of other, unnamed people upon whose advice the Minister has relied, because he cannot have come to all these remarkable conclusions just in vacuo, or off his own bat. Who is it who has been giving this advice? What are the interests and what are the bodies to whom the Government have gone on these particular questions, which are so vitally the concern of the statutory body of Trustees, as your Lordships have heard from so many of them this afternoon? There is something—I hesitate to say wrong, but something which seems to have gone a bit askew over this particular matter, and we have not yet really had the full story. I am sorry that I shall not be here at the end of the debate, but I hope that the noble Earl the Leader of the House will be able to tell us a little more of the actual processes and the channels of opinion which have been pursued in coming to these conclusions.
My Lords, my only remaining point is this. Nothing has been more depressing to me since the war than to see, in area after area of London, opportunity after opportunity of embellishing London, and increasing its efficiency as a metropolitan city, just thrown away. Here is an 1184 opportunity for a great creative effort, ranking almost, as has been implied by various speakers, with the great conceptions of Nash himself 150 years ago. Not only will the scheme create magnificent, new, architectural features: it will get rid of what is really a disgrace to London—the South side of Great Russell Street. It is a chance for this generation, and indeed for this Government, to set on foot something which will rank with the major improvements of London, comparable with the Whitehall area and with one or two other exceptional parts of the City.
It is with that in mind that I associate myself wholeheartedly with the appeals which have been made to the Government to have another look, even at this very late stage, at their conclusions; to review them, at any rate, in close consultation with the Trustees of the Museum and other bodies; and, if need be, to revise them. We have been told or threatened that the decision is irrevocable and immutable. Relics of the Medes and Persians of that kind would be much better housed in Bloomsbury than in the archives of Whitehall, and I hope that the Prime Minister and his colleagues will have another look at this problem and will not allow the chance of distinguishing themselves, and of greatly enriching the Metropolis, just to go by the board for any such reasons as have hitherto been vouchsafed to us.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, I rise to say at once that I am not a Trustee, nor a former Trustee, nor a chairman of a library committee nor an academic. I am just someone who has a great affection for the British Museum, who has had a reader's ticket for a great many years and who enjoys literature and all the objects and works of art which are there. May I say how grateful we are to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, for initiating this debate, which I think has been a very lively one; and also how glad I am, on personal grounds, to know that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, is once again restored to health? He has given us the' benefit of his remarks, and one always listens to the noble Viscount with the greatest interest and respect. Having said that, my Lords, I am bound to say that I think the Government would be justified in resent- 1185 ing some of the implications in some of the speeches that have been made this afternoon: that this Government, and some of us who sit on this side of the House, are Philistine, and that we care less for these things than members of other Parties, or those who sit in other parts of the House. That is not true. We have as good a record as any Government in what we have done for the Arts.
I can remember, twelve years ago, during the time of the previous Administration, going behind the scenes in the British Museum—I was taken round by the former Keeper—and seeing lovely Inca costumes made of parrot feathers disintegrating in the dust, and a whole room where there were piles and piles of Greek and Roman bronzes strewn about the floor being eaten up by verdigris. He said to me, "This is so because we have not the money to employ the people to conserve them"—and that I have never forgiven nor forgotten. I said to the Keeper, while we stood in this room filled with these decaying, distintegrating Roman and Greek bronzes, "Britain must have looked like this after the legions pulled out". Fortunately, the Dark Ages did not last very long, and I am glad to see that, whilst the grant in aid ten years ago was just over £500,000, it is now just over £2 million; and it has been very substantially increased during the lifetime of this Government. That, I think, is something which should go on the record.
My Lords, I should like to say how grateful I am to my noble friend Lady Phillips for setting out so clearly the Government's point of view in what I think has become a most unfortunate dispute. It is one about which people feel strongly, I suppose because we are all so concerned about and have such a deep affection for the British Museum. I feel equally strongly—and, indeed, I felt this long before the Government ever made their decision—that this is the right thing to do. It is generally agreed that we must have a new Library, and I think most people accept that this must be sited in Central London. But I see no reason why it should be opposite to the British Museum. I think it must be somewhere in Bloomsbury, and not too far from the academic centre; but that is no justification for pulling down the Bloomsbury site. I am absolutely delighted that that site is going to be saved.
1186 I heard the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, describing the architectural features of the houses on that site, and saying that they were not really of very great importance. I like the site and think it should be preserved, because it has, charm. I think that in London now we are trying far too much to preserve buildings only because they have the topmost architectural merit. I think we have to consider charm. One would not say that Montmartre has any particular architectural merit, but it has a charm. André Malraux put a preservation order on the whole hill, and that was the right thing to To me, this quarter of Bloomsbury has enormous charm. It is a suitable adjunct to the British Museum, with its publishers' shops, book shops, antique shops and so on. I am delighted it is going to be preserved, and I am very glad that the people living there, who now number well over 900, as my noble friend Lady Phillips said, are going to be able to rest in their homes.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord what reason he has to think that this very questionable site is going to be preserved? We must ask the question: Are the Government going to retain the £2 million worth of this site which is already occupied, or are they going to hand it back to spasmodic development?
§ LORD STRABOLGI
The noble Earl anticipates me. I do not know whether the noble Earl reads the Hansard of another place; but the Secretary of State for Education and Science said that the Government would not now consider the extension of the British Museum being built on this site. Arising out of that, I should like to ask the Government whether they are intending at present that a building preservation order shall be put on this site; because I should not like to think that the property developers will get their hands on it. It is at the moment beginning to look a little seedy and sorry for itself—and who can wonder? I think it could be preserved and restored and become a very charming and delightful quarter again.
I cannot understand the argument that the British Museum and the Library must be kept together. I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, who said that this must be so because the greatest 1187 Library and the greatest Museum in the world should be side by side. That argument I have heard put forward before, and I have never been able to understand it. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, on a previous occasion when my noble friend Lady Phillips made a Statement, said:We have this unique possibility, that we can keep the whole conspectus of our culture on one site, which is something no other country in the world can do.With respect to the noble Viscount, what does that mean? The British Museum is mainly a collection of archaeology with some works of art. It also comprises a National Library. The Museum has hardly any Gothic or Renaissance art and, while there is a magnificent collection of drawings, there are hardly any Western paintings, and certainly no furniture. If the noble Viscount wished to be consistent he would have to move the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate—which is clearly impossible.
The Library itself, by virtue of being a copyright library, has a fairly complete collection of English books; but it has a very incomplete collection of foreign books. The collection there can hardly be called a "conspectus of culture." There is also the argument that the Library should be adjacent to the Museum for the convenience of scholars working there. That I cannot understand. What about the scholars who work in other museums in London or in the provincial museums? They, presumably, have to make a journey, if they need to go to the British Museum; and, presumably, scholars working in the British Museum must make a journey to go to other museums. For example, in the small library at the Victoria and Albert Museum they have a great many books on art which they have not got in the British Museum. I quite agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, said in that connection, and I should like to congratulate him warmly on his maiden speech.
I have every sympathy with the Trustees, who must be feeling shattered and who have shown their anger that this grandiose plan has come to nothing. But we must remember that, imposing as the plan looks, it does not include the 1188 National Reference Library for Science and Invention, which the Trustees apparently decided to hive off in, I think, rather a shortsighted way when they were offered a site for it on the South Bank—
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Oh!
§ LORD STRABOLGI
I thought that would bring them to their feet. But I have listened patiently to twelve speakers; and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Annan—and I look forward to hearing his speech—will bear with me. I have heard the explanations of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, in his speech; I have read the letter he wrote to The Times; but I still think that it was a short-sighted decision to accept that offer (it may be, for good reasons) when it was given. I think it would have been better to preserve it and bring it into the new site.
Also, it appears that this plan did not include the Newspaper Library at Cohn-dale which, according to the Trustees Report of 1939—which, it appears, is the first Report for nearly 30 years; and this I thought in itself a minor scandal—has a life of only 25 years. It was not included in this project which is going to take ten to twenty years to complete. I wonder why that is. Is it because newspapers and magazines are not considered to be part of the "whole conspectus of our culture"?
My Lords, I submit that this project for building would have been something done at the wrong time, at the wrong place and in the wrong way. We have come to the time when we must look at this whole question afresh. There is clearly much overlapping and wasting of resources; there is overlapping, as my noble friend said, between two National Lending Libraries and two National Science Reference Libraries, both of which are building up a stock of scientific books. I should like to say a word about foreign language books. The Perry Committee, in their 1967 Report, said:The role of the National Library in the provision of foreign literature should be twofold: it should attempt to be as wide-ranging as possible in its own stock and should be the centre for the planning on a national scale for the fullest possible coverage of foreign literature.With that I fully agree. It goes on to say that the British National Library 1189 should consider the immediate setting up of a national reference and bibliographical service throughout the country which would act as a clearing house for inquiries. The Trustees cover this same ground, and they say in their report about foreign books:It has been the aim of the library to acquire the scholarly literature of the world, excepting that in oriental languages, and also to provide a reasonable collection of research material from the current book and periodical production of most countries. The use of shared cataloguing is now under energetic investigation.I would submit that that is really not good enough. There must be a concerted effort on a national basis to obtain as full a coverage as possible of foreign books and research material. We need to create a real National Library in Central London which will be the apex of the whole library system and the co-ordinating centre for Britain's library services—something like the Library of Congress in the U.S.A.
I think it is true to say that it is possible for an American scholar doing research into some aspect of European culture to find almost everything he wants, within reason, in a library of the United States. It certainly is not true in this country. I agree that the United States is a rich country and has enormous resources. The Library of Congress are co-operating with the Farmington Plan to cover every book published in the world—which number about 300,000 a year. This, of course, is a very ambitious plan. We know, too, that the American Libraries have been buying up rare books, and particularly ephemera of the last century, for their own research scholars. Here, we do not have the resources for that. It is only through a concerted effort that we can try to fill these very serious gaps in our own libraries. I consider that a real National Library should do for literature what our galleries do for the fine arts. I think in this country we are very well served for exhibitions of the fine arts like paintings and sculpture.
But we have not been well served with exhibitions devoted to literature, and this, I submit, is where the British Museum might have been leading the way and where I think they have failed. The Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris is 1190 separate from the Louvre. It seems none the worse for that, and it is particularly enterprising in this respect. Every year, sometimes twice a year, they put on a major exhibition of one or other of their leading authors. These exhibitions comprise material, books, manuscripts and so on, lent by the French National Libraries, and also with additions from private collectors, not only in France but from abroad. They produce scholarly printed catalogues with illustrations which are for sale, and these are permanent works of reference. The great Marcel Proust exhibition in 1965 contained nearly 600 exhibits, books, manuscripts, proofs, photographs of the author, his family, background and friends; paintings, furniture and even costumes of the period.
Last September and October they had the bicentenary exhibition in Lausanne devoted to Constant with over 400 items, and I believe that this winter they are going to have a most important exhibition in Paris devoted to Guillaume Apollinaire and the important place he held in those early formative years of this century. In contrast, what do we find at the British Museum? In 1965, the same year as the great Proust Exhibition in Paris, they celebrated the centennary of W. B. Yeats, I suppose the greatest English-speaking poet that these Islands have produced in the last 100 years. What do we find? A few dozen books, hastily put together in the King's Library. No catalogue, just a typewritten duplicated hand list with no date on it and no source; it does not even say that it is a British Museum exhibition, and there are no catalogue references. I think the whole thing was most unworthy of the kind of occasion it might have been with a little trouble and imagination. The same thing happened with Galsworthy, in whom there is a revival of interest, and also with the T. S. Eliot exhibition—all thoroughly third-rate, provincial and quite unworthy of the authors which they represented. I hope therefore, my Lords, that out of this inquiry will come a whole reconsideration of every aspect and side of our library service in this country. I hope the Government will still stand firm, and that eventually we shall have a great national library worthy of this country and the world.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ LORD ROBBINS
My Lords, I rise now by courtesy of the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, who suggested that I should take his place in the order of speaking. I have no interest to declare in this connection. I have never been a Trustee of the British Museum, and perhaps at this hour of night I have no new arguments to put forward. I will, therefore, endeavour to be reasonably brief; justifying my appearance at this stage simply in virtue of the fact that, although I have not been a Trustee of this institution, I have for the last 15 years, on and off, been a Trustee of two other famous national institutions and a Director of the Royal Opera House.
I should like first, my Lords, to address my observations to the way in which this decision was promulgated, because although in the end this is far less important than the substance of the decision, I think it involves larger constitutional issues than have been realised by some of the speakers in this debate; issues which I think deserve some ventilation in your Lordships' House. In my judgment what has happened raises the whole question of the proper relation between boards of trustees of public institutions, such as the British Museum, and the Government Departments responsible. There are two obvious ways of running institutions of this sort. They may be directly under the control of some Government Department, with perhaps an advisory committee on the side; or they may be entrusted to a body of trustees or directors with definite powers allotted to them by Statute or by articles of association, depending, however, on Government support, for both running and maintenance expenses and the provision of new accommodation.
In this country, so far as the central institutions are concerned, in the majority of cases we have chosen the indirect form of management through boards of trustees or directors. I venture to say that experience shows that, given good will on both sides, this system works tolerably well. It has an advantage over direct control, in that it decentralises administration. Furthermore, if the trustees are suitably appointed, it means that the responsibility for initiative rests in the hands of bodies combining a wide knowledge of affairs with special dedica- 1192 tion to the objects of the institution concerned. Doubtless the relations between such bodies and Government present problems of some delicacy, but in my experience, at any rate, these problems are not insurmountable.
What has happened on this occasion? There is no need for me to repeat what has been told already by the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, and others. We have heard, too, or read, the account given in another place of the point of view of the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I can only say, my Lords, that if he regards so perfunctory and distant a relationship as appropriate for a decision of this order of importance, let alone the courtesy owing to so distinguished a body of people as the present Board of Trustees of the British Museum, I doubt whether—despite the last speaker—he will find many to agree with him.
In contrast, I think of the relationship which has been enjoyed, year in, year out, by the Board of the National Gallery and successive Chancellors of the Exchequer and Ministers of Public Building and Works. I think more recently of the relationship enjoyed with the Minister of State for the Arts in the Department of Education and Science. I think of the courtesy and attention which she has given to our every proposal. I think of the acquisition of the Hampton site, for instance, which has led to the proposed development, in combination with the Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery, of the whole of the North side of Trafalgar Square. I think of the care and attention recently given by Miss Lee to proposals from the Royal Opera House regarding certain possible future developments. At the very beginning of the negotiations Miss Lee was careful to take the chair at the Working Parties which discussed these possibilities; and I must say that when I listen to what has happened between the Secretary of State and the Trustees of the British Museum I feel that I am hearing about a different world. I have talked to a great many people in the world of scholarship and learning, and I have found no one who does not regard what has happened as being in the nature of a gratuitous insult.
I ask seriously if this sort of thing is to set the pattern of relationships between 1193 the Government and Boards of Trustees. Can this or any future Government hope that men of quality and spirit can be persuaded to give time and energy in such a humiliating relationship? May I say, however, that I am very thankful that the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, and his colleagues have not resigned in protest at the way they have been treated. For if they stay on and fight, there is perhaps, even now, some hope that the decision may be reversed, whereas I imagine that nothing would be more agreeable to the Secretary of State than to be confronted with resignations which would enable him to pack the Board with "yes-men" of his own choosing.
I turn to the decision itself, the rejection of the Trustees' plan. After all that has been said this afternoon, I need not remind your Lordships of the shock and dismay which this has caused throughout the world of scholarship and learning, not only in this country but wherever what the British Museum has stood for in the past is admired and respected. But I believe that shock and dismay are no substitute for argument, and I should like to set out as temperately as I can the reasons for this attitude.
I think that it is important to bear in mind what has already been said in this debate, that the Trustees' plan is not something which was vamped up the day before yesterday and dumped on Ministers' desks as a surprise packet. It was the product of much thought, thought which had embraced a much wider circle than the circle of the Trustees themselves. It had been discussed with previous Ministers, and with the Greater London Authority. The architectural layout was the creation of Sir Leslie Martin, at one time architectural adviser to the old L.C.C., and certainly one of the outstanding leaders of thought on the planning and the layout of great cities.
Whatever may be thought of the end product of these deliberations, it cannot be said to have been an amateur's job. And although nothing in the world is sacrosanct and the citation of great names and authorities is no defence against reasoned criticism, we are surely entitled to know who advised Ministers in this respect. What weight of authority lay behind their personal meditations on those immensely complicated matters? We know that they did not consult the Stand- 1194 ing Commission on Museums and Galleries, the appropriate body appointed by law for such consultations. We know that they did not seek the advice of the Trustees, than whom it is difficult to think of others more knowledgeable. Are we to suppose that the Ministers acted without expert advice, that this astonishing decision was reached by unaided cerebration? There is certainly much which would lend countenance to that hypothesis. We have not been given the information which would enable us to verify it, and I respectfully submit that we are entitled to know.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I am sorry that I did not hear the beginning of the noble Lord's speech. He himself has rendered advice of the utmost value to many Governments. But when he was rendering such advice was it usual for advisers to be publicly nominated in the way he suggests?
§ LORD ROBBINS
My Lords, I do not quite follow the noble Earl. Does he mean was it usual for them to be named? I think that circumstances alter cases. I agree with the noble Earl that there were many occasions, not very often since the war, on which, contrary to public mythology, I have tendered advice to Ministers, and on some of those occasions I should not have wished to be named. But this is a decision of overwhelming importance in the world of science and learning. I am sure the noble Earl must agree with me in his heart that there has not been a decision of this sort of comparable importance in my lifetime. This is a decision which, whether it is right or wrong, goes right to the root of our national culture, and surely we are entitled to know whether this is the product of mature advice by competent people or something which has been thought up in the few weeks in which Mr. Gordon Walker has been in office.
The main reason which has been given so far for this decision was the unwillingness to sacrifice the houses on the site which had already been acquired by expenditure by this and former Governments. The Secretary of State has said that he is unable to understand the frame of mind of those who were willing to make this sacrifice. Well, how uncomprehending can you be? I think that those 1195 of us who dispute his decision are entitled to reply that we find some slight difficulty in understanding a frame of mind which lets a consideration of this sort stand in the way of what hitherto had been thought to be an urgent and important development of one of our outstanding cultural institutions.
It may be—I hope it is not so—that the Secretary of State thinks that no one who does not belong to his Party is capable of entering into sympathetic consideration of problems of housing and accommodation. But he should remember that this particular sacrifice had been sanctioned by the Planning Committee of the Labour administration of the L.C.C. and the G.L.C. Moreover, I observe, quite apart from my observations this afternoon, that when this matter was debated in another place, it was no less an authority than Mr. Strauss, eminent in the councils of his own Party on questions of this sort, who called the decision in question.
Noble Lords who have occasion to frequent the part of London concerned, as I have done for as many years as most, since as a young man I first learned the delights of strolling among the bookshops on the way to the Museum, will know that the threatened housing, though agreeable, was certainly not of such distinction that its preservation could be set against the gains of amenity and convenience which would follow the enlargement of our greatest Museum by Sir Leslie Martin's splendid plan. I confess that I am totally unable to enter into the judgments of those noble Lords who have said that a row of rather second-rate Georgian houses, with one or two exceptions, South of Great Russell Street is something for which we need to sacrifice a major public interest to preserve. Moreover, I should have regarded it as a confession of utter impotence, which I certainly would not wish to attribute to any of the local authorities in the London area, to argue that the rehousing of the population displaced by this development presented such gigantic difficulties as to weigh in the balance against the nationwide—indeed the worldwide—gains to be derived from these urgently needed extensions.
The Government's solution is the disintegration of the Museum as it is at 1196 present organised. The Secretary of State has said in another place that he cannot understand the arguments against disintegration. I confess that when I read statements of this sort I begin to wonder whether the opportunities of reflection during his very brief period of office can have been sufficient to afford full scope for a really serious survey of the problem. But again, let me try to set out the rational considerations here involved.
In the first place, I ought to say that no one whom I have met contends that no separation of departments is possible. The Trustees themselves have agreed—although, as the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, said, with considerable reluctance—to the separation of technical matter relevant to the business of the Patent Office. And it is certainly easy to conceive of a hiving off, if it were necessary, of certain departments of the Museum other than the Library; although I should hope that it would be commonly agreed that the more that could be kept together, the better.
At any rate, one thing seems to me to be certain; namely, that the separation of the manuscripts and earlier printed books from the copyright library would be a mistake of the first order of magnitude. Indeed, if I may say so, the mere suggestion that it should be seriously considered is surely a hallmark of considerable ignorance of the needs of scholarship. I suggest that Ministers should apply their minds to the needs, to take a very obvious example, of Shakespearian research. Let them imagine themselves engaged in the reinterpretation of the texts in the folios and quartos, and compelled continually to scurry between the Reading Room of the British Museum, containing the earlier printed books, and the brand new central Library, the darling of their imaginations, containing the critical literature of the subject since the middle of the 19th century. Is there not an argument here against creating such difficulties?
It may be suggested, however—indeed, it has been suggested this evening—that the right plan is a total separation between the location of the National Library, comprising all literary material from the Egyptian papyrii onwards, and the artistic and archæological objects by which such materials are at present 1197 surrounded in the organisation of the Museum. Clearly no one could argue that this was impracticable. No one could argue that it presented insurmountable obstacles to the pursuit of scholarship. We know that it has happened elsewhere. Perhaps, if we were starting from scratch in some still to be developed community, a separation of this sort, which is so obviously feasible, would also be deemed to be the most appropriate in the circumstances.
But, my Lords, this is not the position with which we are confronted. We are not historically or culturally an underdeveloped nation. We are not starting from scratch. We are starting with a priceless heritage. And, contrary to the apparent belief of the Secretary of State, the present combination in Bloomsbury of one of the greatest libraries in the world with one of the greatest museums, so far from being a disadvantage, has hitherto, among most educated people, been regarded as one of its greatest glories. When the librarians of the world express consternation at the contemplated separation, the Secretary of State gaily says that he knows how easily such manifestations are organised. As a very inadequate scholar myself, but as one who can at least lay claim to having lived and moved among scholars all my life, I should like to take it upon myself to say that, when he talks like this, he is merely showing himself and the Government he represents to be out of touch with relevant opinion. The decision that has been taken may secure or keep a few votes in the Borough of Camden, but it will surely lose the support and arouse the positive hostility of, I should say, the majority of academics throughout this country.
In the last twenty years this country has undergone many grievous vicissitudes. We have lost a position of political preeminence in the world at large. We have suffered considerable humiliation even in the economic sphere. But hitherto, in the world of learning we have contrived to hold our own. And if one looks to the future, it is still possible to hope that, although shorn of much in the spheres of military power and comparative economic standing, we can still play a leading part in things of the spirit. Hitherto the British Museum has been one of the chief glories of our nation in 1198 this sphere, both as substance and as symbol of what men live by in the world of scholarship.
Now, without apparently any weight of expert opinion behind them, the Government have taken upon themselves to decree the dismemberment of that institution and the dissipation of its unique distinction. The opportunity of a development in Central London which should be an inspiration to the present and future age has been thrown away, and we are left wish the mediocre prospect of yet another Committee, on which I conjecture many of the most competent to act will be very reluctant to serve, fumbling about as they would be in the twilight of the second best.
I ask myself: Is this prospect inevitable? I know that positions have been taken up, that amour propre has been committed. But this is something which, surely, should transcend both politics and personalities. The preservation and improvement of an important part of our cultural heritage is at stake. Therefore, even at this late hour, I still express the hope that those who rule over us will pause and think again. And I say to my friends on the Government Front Bench, in all sincerity, that it is the abhorence of arbitrary decisions of this sort, taken, as the noble Lord, Lord Snow, said, in secret, which are so shattering to the confidence which is necessary if in so many spheres we are to maintain our reputation and survive.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ LORD RAGLAN
My Lords, I want first to congratulate both my noble friends who have made maiden speeches to-day. I m grateful to them for their contributions, and took much pleasure in listening to them. On Monday there was a lot of criticism of the Government's proposal for Stansted Airport, and I sat through that debate thinking that I had never heard so much criticism in an afternoon. But it was nothing to what I had been expecting this afternoon, because I was sure that almost no-one could be more articulately and therefore more devastatingly critical than a wounded Museum Trustee. I think that those noble Lords who are so hurt by the lack of consultation should have a fellow feeling for the ASLEF engine drivers who went on strike the other day. The guard had been moved 1199 from the back of the train to the back of their engine, and nobody, it seems, thought of asking them first. There are many occasions where our communications with each other break down, and I think that every effort should be made to see that this sort of thing does not occur.
Before I had heard of the decision to scrap the proposed Camden Library site I had no idea it was so large. My first thought was to wonder why such a vast area was thought necessary. Seven and a half acres is in my imagination a devil of a lot of books, even if they were only a single shelf high and allowing for space to read them. Not having seen the Martin plan, I began to speculate on how it was proposed to take up so much space, and I had visions of piazzas and pillars, of fountains and a lot of marble steps, like a Roman amphitheatre, not to sit on or really to walk on, and an occasional statue. There would be echoing entrance halls with an attendant in a little box, because it would be too expensive to heat the imposing space. Your Lordships are only too familiar with the sort of thing I mean and the kind of place in which it seemed to me people would be likely to have to spend more time, or as much time, walking as reading.
When I saw a picture of the Martin plan, therefore, I was not very surprised, because it seems to me rather the kind of thing I imagined. Though I know it was proposed to make a lot of space below ground, I wonder whether that plan is really what is wanted for a place in which people need to go to work. Is it really the right approach to the question of building a new library for the Museum to find a site and then wonder how to fill it? Would it not be better to decide what sort of books or papers one needs to house, and then design a building, or perhaps several different shapes of purpose-built buildings, and then look for a site which would accommodate one of them? I do not mean to be dully utilitarian about it, but I think, especially as we have learnt so much about how to use space more economically that we should try to get away from the idea that one of the primary functions of a public building is to look imposing and spacious. The people who have to work in such buildings are im- 1200 pressed only by their inconvenience and discomfort. I hope that when a new Library is built it will have been designed with one consideration in mind above all others, which is to store books for people to read.
§ LORD ROBBINS
My Lords, does the noble Lord suggest that these considerations were not in the minds of Sir Leslie Martin and his collaborators?
§ LORD RAGLAN
My Lords, I will come to that in a moment, if I may.
If this decision has done nothing else, it has made people think, which I am sure is nearly always a good thing. It has perhaps done the Museum much more good than harm. The Trustees have had a very good opportunity to talk about how badly off they are—and they are—and to advertise little known functions of the Museum, and the whole question of a new National Library is going to be thoroughly discussed.
I have been looking through a batch of Press cuttings, about six inches thick, which this matter generated and which shows that the British Museum authorities themselves are not beyond criticism, although one would not have thought so from the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. I rather had the impression from his speech that not only were the Trustees and staff of the British Museum beyond criticism, but they had a monopoly of wisdom. I am sure he does not think that, but that is the impression he gave me.
There was a letter from Sir Frank Francis in the Daily Telegraph on April 1 this year, in which he described the sort of criticism I have ben making of the Martin scheme as nonsensical. That is surely not the right attitude to criticism. It is certainly not a scientific attitude. The vast area of the proposed scheme—and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, will agree that this is a very large area—is open to criticism, and the plan of what it is proposed to put on it is also open to criticism. Everything is open to criticism, including my views. But I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Snow: I think that people must be given a chance to discuss these things in public. Yet I think that unless this decision we are discussing this afternoon, and the Stansted decision we discussed on Monday, had been announced 1201 in the way they were, it is unlikely that public discussion would ever have been stimulated to the extent it has been. Indignation is a wonderful stimulator of thought and action. I very much hope that the opportunity will be grasped, and things will get threshed out because people have been stung into thought, and that things will get done and the results will be fruitful.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ LORD ANNAN
My Lords, may offer congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Hungershall, on his maiden speech? It was, of course, a particular pleasure to me to hear this because he is my distinguished predecessor at University College. I only wish it had not been such a melancholy occasion on which he had to rise, because he has been for so long the Trustee of the British Museum most concerned with the printed books and manuscripts, and hence with the condition and future of the Library.
I find this occasion melancholy because I still cannot understand what circumstances induced the Government to take this drastic decision. It was a drastic reversal of policy. I am not going to join in the chorus of indignation this afternoon. The Government had every right to reverse the decision which was taken in 1955. If a Labour Government cannot refuse to be bound by the decision of a Conservative Government, or a Conservative Government by one of a Labour Government, then what on earth is the point of a General Election?
The Government are perfectly right to be concerned about housing. The displacement of even 450 people out of 900 in Great Russell Street, if there was no prospect of their being rehoused, is something that would have to be considered. I think this would go against the Government's political principles. I do not want to stress that 420 of those people came into the site after the initial inquiry had been held, because an influx of this kind is simply an indication of the needs of housing. I am entirely behind the Government when they assert that it is evil to add to misery by taking decisions to throw people out of their houses—unless, of course, they can be re-housed on another site. But there is another site, my Lords. That site is Covent Garden. Can the Government explain why it is impossible to rehouse people on the 1202 Covent Garden site?—because it could be argued that Covent Garden is a better site for housing than the particular site in Bloomsbury.
The Government also have a perfect right, so far as I am concerned, to be worried about preservation. It is perfectly true that only six Grade II buildings and twelve Grade III buildings exist on the Great Russell Street site, and I agree with the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, that these buildings do not seem to be of very high priority for preservation. Certainly the Labour-controlled London County Council did not think so; nor do the Greater London Council to-day. If these three buildings which are being preserved are thought to be so important, I should have expected to hear the noble Earl, Lord Euston, who is Chairman of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient. Buildings, loudly welcome the Government's decision. And I should have expected an outburst of delight on television and in the newspapers from the thousands of ardent preservationists in the country. But I probably missed it. I must stress my own opinion here. I could not describe myself as anything more than a moderate preservationist. But, having said that, I think it is perfectly clear that there are some buildings on this site, particularly the Pharmaceutical Society's building, whose preservation it is reasonable for people to insist upon if they think that preservation has not been taken sufficiently into account on the site in the Martin Plan.
The Trustees knew that for a year, and longer, the Government had doubts about the Martin Plan. Again, such doubts are perfectly understandable. Some people might hold this Plan to be rather too much of an "all or nothing" plan, and to be insufficiently sensitive (shall we say?) to the preservation problems which I have just been talking about. But I must say that I think something very odd happened in the mind of the Government when they came to their decision. I thought that when these clouds which had been gathering over the past year burst the rain that would descend would be like this. I thought the Trustees would be told that the Martin Plan must be either modified drastically or scrapped completely, and that the Trustees would be asked, as a matter of urgency, to produce another plan for the site, and that 1203 such plan would have to accommodate some of the old buildings and more people.
It is very clear, I think, from Mr. Roy Shaw's letter to The Times that the Borough of Camden also thought that was likely to take place, and that was why they were so surprised. If the Trustees had been told this was going to happen, they might have sighed, but of course they would have co-operated and thrown themselves into making a new plan. What took them completely aback was to be told that they must abandon all claims for the site, and that is why I ask: Is it inconceivable, even at this late stage, that the Government should give the Trustees the chance to prepare a new plan, according to whatever considerations they think are right and proper. Three and a half acres of buildings have been acquired at a cost of over £2 million. There are a great many reasons why we should not rule out the Great Russell Street site at this moment.
What are those reasons? The first is simply this. Mr. Gordon Walker has made it perfectly clear that the National Library, in his opinion, ought to be in Central London, and that the obvious site for this Library is Covent Garden when it becomes vacant. But why put a massive complex of buildings, as the National Library must be, in Covent Garden, which ideally ought to have low buildings? Why not commission a new design for the National Library on the Great Russell Street site which will enable more people to be housed there and more ancient buildings to be preserved? I do not want to say that the Covent Garden site is impossible; it certainly is not. But I maintain that it is less desirable.
Furthermore, if you sell off the Great Russell Street site, making a handsome profit, how can you preserve the character of that site? You can preserve the ancient buildings under preservation orders, but the rest will go to private developers, and they will ruin what the Government now believes it is saving. The only likely residuary legatee in this situation will be the University of London, and although I have an interest there I must say that if I have to choose between the University of London and the 1204 British Museum for priorities in this, I unhesitatingly plump for the British Museum.
I come now to the most difficult part of my argument; and I say it is difficult because the Secretary of State in another place said that he had never heard any rational argument advanced for keeping together the Collections of the Museum and the Library. The Secretary of State for Education and Science was of course a student of Christ Church, and I am sorry that the Trustees' argument did not strike him as rational when he read it. But I do not despair, because the noble Earl the Leader of the House was also a student of Christ Church, and I hope the Trustees will succeed in convincing him, whether or not he agrees with the argument, that it was at any rate a rational one. The rational case has been stated so many times this evening that I will not go over it in all its complexity. I am not dodging it, but merely trying to save time.
May I stress one particular point which I think ought to appeal to the Government, and particularly the Department of Education and Science, at a time when economic use of public funds is so vital? My point is this: if the Library is moved away from the Museum, every department in the Collections will have to have its own separate library. Many of the books will be unobtainable except in the form of expensive and cumbersome copies.
What else will happen? The Prints and Drawings Department will almost certainly have to move out of the Museum with the Library. So, probably, would the Coins and Medals Department. Again, the Antiquities Departments cannot work for a day without the Library's books. The Oriental Antiquities share their material with the Department of Manuscripts. Similarly, the Library needs the staff of the Oriental Department to help with the range of languages that it covers. So to move the Library right away from the collections is certainly pretty wasteful and uneconomical in resources. Let me add one tiny point, a sentimental one. It is not only the scholars who would be affected by the removal of the Library, the separation of the Library from the Collections. I think it will be a sad day when schoolchildren, who go in their thousands to the Museum, 1205 cannot see Magna Carta and the Rosetta Stone together in one morning. That is part of education.
Let me add one last argument for not closing the door permanently on the Great Russell Street site. Why did the decision have to be taken this autumn? I believe the answer to be because the Pharmaceutical Society held a pistol at the Government's head. They said, "We have been offered an alternative site. We have to give an answer to the vendors in five weeks. Do we have to move or don't we?" So a decision had to be taken in five weeks on a site which had been under consideration for sixteen years. My Lords, whatever else this is, it is not planning. I am not saying that the decision is primarily the Government's fault. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Snow, very much in this. I think that the necessity for this kind of decision is one of the problems which we face in our administration in the country at large to-day, and it is a commentary on Government at large.
Let me finish by saying this. It is not much fun being a Trustee of the British Museum today. It is not much fun to see the staff working in deplorable conditions and to see how dispirited and apprehensive they are about the future; to see how every plan for improving display or research, or serving the public, or even keeping the most elementary services going, is frustrated and hangs fire for lack of funds. Certainly the present Government are not solely to blame; and I follow the argument which was used by the noble Lord when he said that the present Government has done a great deal to improve the amount of funds going to the British Museum. All Governments, of course, bear their responsibility for this state of affairs. Let me not make now an appeal for an immediate influx of funds. Just at this moment I think that everyone who is a recipient of public funds must realise how desperately difficult it is for the Treasury to meet the demands of Departments for expenditure. If the Trustees are told that the Government are going to be even harder than in the past, we must bear that situation as best we can.
But, my Lords, what is unendurable is to hear the argument put forward—I know in all sincerity—by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and to see our 1206 misfortunes turned into rods to beat our backs. The fact that lack of space forces us to out-house scientific books in Bays-water is now used as an argument for separating totally science and technology from the main Library. The fact that the Ethnography Department may well have to move from the Museum is now used as an argument that the Collections should be split up. The fact that the Antiquities Department cannot display their treasures for lack of space is already being used by Mrs. Jeger as an argument for dispersing the Collections throughout provincial museums on permanent loan. The British Museum is rather like a prisoner who, having been starved for years, is then kicked and flogged for not being able to do the work of ten men. That is the thing most difficult to explain to the staff of the Museum.
I very much hope that the Dainton Committee will recognise that this is the kind of background to their deliberations. I hope that the impression has not been given in this House to-day that the Trustees are dog-in-the-manger about the future of the National Library. Let me state perfectly frankly my own opinion that I, for one, look forward to the creation of a National Library with its own separate governing body of Trustees, or any other body which the Government care to set up. What I do fear slightly is that the scientific lobby in the Department will seize on the Museum's misfortunes to set up a Library of Science and Technology quite separate from the National Library. Such a step might not be unbearable, but if this offshoot is given priority by the Government as regards site and buildings this will inevitably have the result of leaving the National Library of the Humanities and Collections of Antiquities to sink again to the bottom where priorities are concerned.
Why do I fear this? I fear it because once the Great Russell Street site is abandoned it will be forgotten that the British Museum always envisaged in its plans for that site that the National Reference Library of Science and Invention should be housed there as part of the great complex of a National Library. The original plan will be forgotten, because there is always a danger that, whatever Government are in power, they will 1207 be persuaded that to set up a National Library as it should be set up will be too expensive an undertaking. Then there will be the temptation to do the job piecemeal, by hiving off first one part and then another of the British Museum Library and of its services.
So, my Lords, in wishing the Dainton Committee all good luck in studying this problem, may I plead that they will not just ask the British Museum for evidence and then hold it at arm's length? On the contrary, I hope that the Committee will see their way to work intimately and in harmony with the British Museum authorities. There really is some sense in this. After all, the British Museum has been studying what a National Library means and how it can be organised. It may not have all the answers, but it has been at it for twenty years. So I do not ask the noble Earl the Leader of the House to go back on the Government's decision to scrap the Martin Plan. Let that stand. But I do ask him to give the Dainton Committee a free hand to recommend where the site of the National Library should be.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, before coming to more controversial matters, I wonder whether I may, in all sincerity, join in congratulations to the two noble Lords who have made maiden speeches to-day? I would particularly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Hungershall, who made one of the best maiden speeches I have heard in either House. I do not think I say that merely because I agreed with everything he said.
When this decision was first announced to Parliament on October 26 of this year I happened to be in this House, and when the noble Lord, Lord Annan, expressed the sense of outrage of the Trustees on the substance and the manner of what had been done, I immediately supported him, because I thought it was desirable that somebody who was not a Trustee should express his agreement, if he felt it, with the Trustees. By putting it, I assure the noble Earl the Leader of the House, in interrogatory form, I pointed out that a most important decision was being made on the future of what was perhaps the greatest Library in the world, 1208 against the wishes of the Trustees, legally responsible for that Library, without proper consultation of them and without any consultation of Parliament.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I did not like to interrupt the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, because it was early in the day and we wanted to get on. But the noble Lord is not arguing, is he, that some illegal step has been taken?
§ LORD CONESFORD
No, my Lords, I was not. I think the only speaker who has argued that so far is the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who raised an interesting point. But I am not arguing that. I endeavour to make my argument reasonably clear, and perhaps the noble Earl will intervene, if there is anything that is obscure and on which he wants information. That was not my argument. I pointed out in interrogatory form that the Trustees were the people legally responsible for the conduct of the British Museum, and that this was done against their wishes and without consulting them. I also pointed out, as was pointed out by the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, this afternoon, that it was done without any consultation of Parliament, and I asked the Minister whether she was aware that, for those reasons, the sense of outrage expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, was shared, in my view, by every educated man. The telegrams and messages that have poured in from so many great institutions throughout the world show, I think, that the first reactions of Lord Annan and his co-Trustees, and the first reaction that I felt were not too wide of the mark.
I do not propose to repeat arguments that have been so well put by the Trustees of this Museum and by others—it would be immodest for so simple a layman to do so—but I must say a few words about what I thought was the devastating speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Radcliffe. Some people have expressed the view, and others may have thought, that what he said was rather rough. I would suggest to the noble Earl the Leader of the House that he should not take that line—and I will tell him why. If anything that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, said was untrue, by all means let us be told what it was. But if what the noble and learned Viscount said was true, then the 1209 indignation that he expressed expresses no more indignation than is felt by most of us on these Benches, and I think on the other side, who have studied this question. I believe that the decision of the Government will inflict great injury on scholarship and culture and will do irreparable harm to one of the greatest of our national possessions and to our international reputation.
More than 200 years ago these words were spoken by one of the greatest geniuses that this country has produced and that the world has known. This is what Isaac Newton said:I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay almost undiscovered before me.Those words were modest and they were immortally great. In exploring the great ocean of truth, what a splendid tool the British Museum Library has provided How many men of all nations have there sought help and inspiration
Many years have passed since, as a humble scholar, I myself had occasion to use the Reading Room. I believe that no man of any imagination can work there without feelings of respect and reverence for one of the greatest institutions in the world. Whenever I think of it I am reminded of that noblest tribute to London perhaps ever paid, the famous sentence from Milton's Areopagitica, which begins:Behold now this vast city, a city of refuge, the mansion-house of liberty";and a little later in the same sentence comes his reference to… pens and heads there, sitting by their studious lamps, musing, searching, revolving new notions and ideas …Those are the values now threatened, and they are threatened by little men too arrogant to know or to care what it is they are destroying.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I confess that I rise in a state of despondency. Like my noble friend Lord Silkin, I am a supporter of the general policy of the present Government. It makes me very despondent and, to use an adjective put into my mouth by the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, not a little indignant that the 1210 attitude of the Government to the British Museum affair should have been one of a wooden character, with not a sign of being prepared to give way at any point, either in the Commons debate or in your Lordships' House this afternoon. Indeed, the Minister responsible said that he cannot see the argument. Surely a man who cannot see the argument which has been put by so many people, both in the debate in the Commons and in your Lordships' House this afternoon, is not fit to hold the high office which the Minister holds.
The first reason why I find myself so much out of sympathy with the decision, which indeed I think is a deplorable one, is that the Government have in effect decided to treat this as a matter of politics. It is quite unrealistic to suggest that the line-up of the House of Commons was not produced by Government pressure. Indeed, one imagines that the whip was cracking in the background. In spite of that, they could muster only one speaker in the House of Commons to support this decision, the local Member of Parliament, whose interests were obviously engaged on the side of the housing proposals, and who in her speech showed that she could not really take a national attitude towards this matter, because she wanted to break up the British Museum and to have that magnificent collection dispersed in provincial museums all over the country.
There could be no more unfortunate time than the present for an exhibition of Party narrowness and prejudice of this kind. There is at present in the country a considerable mass of opinion which is feeling disillusioned about our well-tried political institutions, and particularly about the Party system. Some of our most eminent political journalists are saying that the days of the Party system are numbered. I myself do not believe that this is true. If it is, it may be the end of political democracy in this country, because I do not believe that our system of political democracy can work on any other basis. But the attitude of the Government over this business, in which they appear to be lining up a great political Party behind what really is an administrative decision in support of a narrow local government interest, is calculated to foster just this kind of disillusionment which is so perilous at the present time. Does anyone really believe that if the 1211 matter had been left to a free vote in the House of Commons the decision taken—a decision taken as it was by a narrow enough majority—would not have been reversed by an overwhelming vote the other way?
If we analyse the speeches made in that debate, we find that only one solitary voice was raised in support of the Government, and that was the local Member of Parliament. The reversal of policy over this matter has indeed been claimed as a personal triumph for Mrs. Jeger, and it may well be that is so. One cannot help admiring the tenacity and courage with which she has fought for her housing scheme in Holborn, and on this site in particular. But the other Labour Members who took part in that debate—one of whom has been referred to more than once in your Lordships' House this afternoon, Mr. George Strauss, a very eminent member of the late Lord Attlee's Government, in which he held the position of Minister of Works, and in which he acquired an intimate knowledge of these sort of problems, Mr. Leslie Hale who devoted his "swan-song" as a Member of Parliament to the subject, and the one Liberal who took part—were all on the same side. Surely it is almost unbelievable that, flying in the face of all this opinion in another place, the Government should have held so stubbornly—and "stubbornly" is the only word that describes their attitude—and woodenly to this unfortunate decision. I do not want to say more about the Minister's speech; it has been criticised a good deal this afternoon. I must say that I thought it was an inept performance.
I should like to put two points to the Government spokesman here to-day. I have not been able to find out whether the Dainton Committee has yet been appointed. Can we be told whether it has been appointed and, if so, who are its members? The Minister on November 16 said that there was going to be no delay about this. On November 30, a fortnight later, he showed when answering a Question in another place, he at that time at any rate had not appointed the members. This, I think, is quite typical of his attitude in regard to this matter. He is not taking it in the serious way which it deserves. It is altogether wrong.
1212 The second question which was raised by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, is whether the Bloomsbury site has in fact been taken out of the power of the Dainton Committee to recommend. Are they free to recommend that this site is the best site for this extension, or are they precluded from that? This is a very important point indeed and, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, it should be left to them. I should like the Leader of the House to make it quite clear whether this has in fact been taken out of their control or whether they are free to come back to the Government and say, "This is the best site for the extension of the British Museum Library." I hope he will answer that question quite clearly so that we know where we are about it.
My second point is concerned with what appears on the face of it to be a complete disregard by the Government of informed opinion about this matter. I do not want to add to what has been said about the way the Trustees have been treated, though I certainly should not blame them if they were to resign en bloc, having been treated in the way they have. But, as many of your Lordships have said, that is not the important matter for us to-day. What is more disastrous is the way in which the views of those who work in the universities and of scholars generally have just been ignored in respect of this matter—there is no other word to describe it. Not only have they not been taken into consultation, but ever since the decision was announced they have made clear their views about this with no uncertain voice and, in effect, it has been ignored from first to last. Cannot the Government see that they are placing before the interests, and indeed the requirements, of the universities, and of scholarship generally, a minor local housing need? And although, as has been said, the housing of these people is an important matter, obviously the two things do not stand in the same sort of field as regards their importance.
This is an interest which is fundamentally important—as the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, said, perhaps the most important matter which has been raised in a lifetime, and very much more important than the problem of devaluation about which we were arguing with such heat a week or two ago. I am surprised that a Government which owes so much to 1213 those of us who work in the universities should treat this important section of the community with such disdain.
I am myself one of the most senior members of the Labour Party in your Lordships' House, and indeed in the country generally: there cannot be very many people who have been personal members of the Labour Party for a longer time, because within a week or two of its being thrown open to workers by hand or brain in 1918 I had become a member. During most of the intervening period I have spent my life in higher education, and for the greater part of it I have been working in a university. For almost the whole of that time I have not only watched but taken a considerable part in building up Socialist thought in the universities. So your Lordships can understand how deeply I feel about a decision of this kind, where great national interests are disregarded in this way.
In recent months there have been signs of an ebb setting in among individual members of university staff in their support of the Labour Party. If you were to go through the names of the present Cabinet, you would find that a high proportion of them are men who have been teachers in our universities. They should know that our universities have been the power-houses, so to speak, of the ideology and policy-making of the Labour Party; and those who have stepped out of the universities into Government office cannot afford—I repeat, they cannot afford—to disregard, in the way that they have been doing over this matter, and indeed over some other matters, the feelings of those who work in the universities. I think this explains why there has been that noticeable ebb setting in over these last weeks among the staffs of the universities in their support of the Labour Party. That ebb may become a rapid one and, if it does, the Labour Party will really have lost the power house on which it has built up its influence in the country and which eventually enabled it to achieve office and power.
Frankly, I am more than puzzled that the Prime Minister, who is usually so sensitive to movements of opinion, should have allowed his colleagues to get him into such a false position. I am even more puzzled that those colleagues—two of them, in particular—who are men who have spent at any rate part of their lives 1214 working in universities, can be so insensitive to the feelings of those they have left behind in university work. Both the present Secretary of State and his predecessor, who must take a very large share of the responsibility for this decision is not the decision only of Mr. Gordon Walker, and it started with his predecessor—have been Oxford dons.
How could they have so betrayed their trust in the way they have done? How could they in this way have betrayed the cause of scholarship? Is not this an example of le trahison veritable des cletcs—the treason of the clerks—which has led to so much disaster in the history of civilisation in the world? To find specious arguments in favour of bad decisions is the hallmark of the treasonable clerk throughout the ages. I very much fear that this decision about the British Museum is stamped with that hallmark.
Another aspect of this matter, to which I was glad to see Mr. Strauss drew attention in his speech in the other place, is the close connection of the University of London and several of its most important colleges with the British Museum, and particularly with the British Museum Library. It was typical of Mrs. Jeger's speech that she pooh-poohed this, on the ground that some of the colleges of London are not situated in Bloomsbury; and, indeed, she mentioned the Wye College in Kent—the horticultural college. It was typical of Mrs. Jeger's speech. Was she thinking that it could be placed in Russell Square, perhaps, and carry on its horticultural experiments there?
But Mr. Strauss's point is a good one and an important one, in spite of Mrs. Jeger's pooh-poohing it; important from more than one point of view. The scholars who work in these colleges use the British Museum Library a great deal, and will be seriously inconvenienced if it is moved away. From many points of view, this area is a cité universitaire and was to a substantial extent planned on that sort of basis by the late Lord Beveridge, who was the originator of the plan for establishing the headquarters of the University of London in Bloomsbury at the Senate House.
This means that the scheme which the Government have discarded has not only had the appeal of scholarship, but the appeal of planning as well—and I mean 1215 planning in the national interest, as opposed to a local government interest of the kind which on this occasion the Government have placed before the national interest. It also has the appeal of architecture, the æsthetic appeal, which, in connection with a university, is very important indeed, because the young men and women who come to our universities are in a very impressionable state of mind. So it is important that this architectural interest should not be overlooked; that they should work in fine surroundings.
If you look from the air at the quadrilateral between Euston Road on the North and New Oxford Street on the South, you will see, if you begin at the North, University College, a fine example of early 19th century classical architecture—I think the finest building in the University of London. Grouped around the imposing mass of the Senate House a little further South, close up against the British Museum itself, there are a number of the most important institutions in the whole University. It is hardly necessary to mention all their names—Birkbeck College, the School of Oriental and African Studies, the School of Slavonic Studies, the Institute of Education, the University of London Union—and an even larger number of specialised institutions, all of which depend to a very large extent on the British Museum and its Library.
Outside this quadrilateral, not very much further away to the North, certainly within walking distance, is Bedford College—an important institution in the University of London—and not very far away to the South are the two important institutions of King's College and the London School of Economics, all within walking distance. I frequently walk to the British Museum from the School of Economics myself.
Libraries are power-houses of universities. I do not think that among the general public the importance of the library to the university is really understood and appreciated. But anyone who has worked for a substantial period of time in a university must realise that that is the truth, and I defy anyone to show that the British Museum Library could be placed elsewhere than on this particular site and still be valuable to 1216 all those institutions which I have mentioned.
And what is the competition for this site?—a miserable housing scheme! I use the word "miserable" only because this is a very small site for a housing scheme. Its extent for a library has been criticised by one or two speakers, but for a housing scheme it really is a very small site. It could house only a very few hundred people out of the 9,000 applicants that Mrs. Jeger mentioned unless there is adopted a tremendously intensive scheme such as the one that Mrs. Jeger played a great part in building up on the other part of Southampton Row, where there are enormous residential blocks. It is an appalling thought that enormous residential blocks of this kind should be erected on the Bloomsbury site for the British Museum, overpowering Smirke's spendid façade and, indeed, overpowering Bedford Square, which is only a couple of hundred yards or so away, and is the finest square we still have left in London.
§ LORD CHORLEY
And there is the church which has been referred to more than once this afternoon.
My Lords, I had intended to conclude these remarks with a personal appeal to the Prime Minister, adding my voice to that widely and authoritatively signed petition which was addressed to him. But he seems in his letter to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, to have rejected this out of hand. I return to a point which has been made by more than one speaker this afternoon. On what authority—and he speaks with authority in his letter to Lord Radcliffe—does the Prime Minister reject this powerfully signed document from the universities and from the homes of scholarship? On the voice of the Secretary of State, who was a don at Oxford for, what—eight years? On the voice of his predecessor, who was a don at Oxford for, what—two years? Or on his own authority, he having been a don at Oxford for, I think, inside of twelve months?
§ LORD CHORLEY
My noble friend knows more about it than Who's Who, because I have just looked it up. My Lords, surely it is a scandal that decisions should be taken in this way. The noble Lord, Lord Snow, has said—and I entirely agree with him—that these things ought to be argued out in public. We ought to know the authority on which this kind of decision has been reached, in the teeth of all the advice from the representatives of universities and scholarship in this country.
My Lords, we all miss the late Lord Attlee very much. I wish to goodness he could have been here at this debate this afternoon. I have not the slightest doubt what his advice to your Lordships' House would have been. At the end of the war, when the War Department were trying to hold on to the land which they had taken for the training of the troops, Lord Attlee was approached and he said, "No; this must not be allowed". He intervened as Prime Minister, and a committee was appointed which, working very expeditiously, took back out of the hands of the War Department the commons and open lands of England. Not long afterwards there was a question of pulling down the Regency Terraces in Regent's Park—one of the greatest architectural heritages which we have received from our ancestors. That would have happened if Lord Attlee had not personally intervened. This was typical of him. I am mentioning only these two cases. I could mention three or four others, but I have taken up sufficient of your Lordships' time. I had hopes that, following that excellent example, the present Prime Minister would have intervened on the side of enlightenment and learning. I think there is still time for him to do so, although he comes very near to having burned his boats.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord: would not Mr. Hugh Gaitskell have taken the same line as the late Lord Attlee would have taken on an issue of this kind?
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I can hardly answer that question as I knew Clem Attlee very much better. But it did occur to me, when I read the Prime Minister's letter this morning—and I will 1218 close on this reflection—that there was a saying which was current in Rome:Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad".I hope that the Prime Minister will have recovered his sanity in time to have this deplorable decision put right.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BOYD OF MERTON
My Lords, I am very happy to follow the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, who has just made an extremely interesting speech, and one clearly infused with very deep conviction. Though I cannot pretend that I can join with him in any sincerity in advising the noble Earl the Leader of the House how to recover waning support for the Socialist Party in the universities, I can join with the noble Lord in urging the Government, even at this late hour, to think again. Once more, on the point made by Lord Chorley, I personally am much more concerned about the damage done to scholarship by the Government's decision than by anything else, and if one result of remedying the errors already made is an increase in the Labour Party's support in the universities, I think the price will have been well paid for reconsideration of this particular project.
At this late hour I do not propose to detain your Lordships with any recapitulation of the many and massive arguments in favour of maintaining the Library and the Museum side by side. These have been fully advanced by other speakers this afternoon and by much informed opinion outside. Nor will I dwell again on the lack of consultation, for I do not believe that anybody who has followed this debate really believes that there was any consultation at all in the generally understood meaning of that word. I think that we all, the Trustees in particular, heard with very great interest and with pleasure, and with some envy, the account by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, of the happy relations that exist between various bodies in the world of culture with which he is associated and the relevant Ministers. The Trustees of the Museum lament these disagreements, and have no relish whatever for them. The collision course on which we seem embarked is not of our wish or of our making.
1219 My Lords, I very much wish that there had been something said by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, which had raised some new points to answer, but that was not to be. However, there are one or two matters I should like briefly to emphasise at the conclusion of this debate, and I must also declare an interest. Like the most reverend Primate and the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, I was for a period of five years an ex-officio Trustee under the old dispensation. Then, after the British Museum Act, I was appointed a Trustee by Mr. Macmillan, as Prime Minister, in 1962, and reappointed for five years by the present Prime Minister just a month or two ago. I have also been chairman of the Museum's Building Committee for the last three years, in which role I succeeded the noble Earl, Lord Crawford. I therefore have close acquaintanceship with the curious and distressing story of the handling of the British Museum's building matters by Her Majesty's Ministers. If there is anything in Lord Raglan's unusual argument that the best way to get a right decision is to make a wrong one, when there will be an outcry and the right decision may be made as a result, then the Government could not have set about their task in a more enlightened way.
The points to which I would draw attention are these. First, and most important, are the ominous rumours that are circulating—hints of which have been dropped by other noble Lords, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Annan—that stage by stage fragmentation of the Library may take place over the next few years. The first threat of this that came to the Trustees—or, rather, the clear intention of it—was the plan to separate the Library from the collection. This, in our view and in the view of most scholars, is tragic enough; but there is now evidence that there is also a threat, and it may be also an intention, already arrived at to fragment and dismember the Library itself. I saw in The Times of the day before yesterday—and I accept that this is not necessarily an authoritative statement—the words:Professor Dainton is to be the chairman of the committee of the proposed scientific library, if the present library is split up as planned".Noble Lords will remember that the Secretary of State for Education and 1220 Science is on record as saying on November 16 in another place:I am convinced that the Library should be in Central London".—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Commons), 16/11/67, col. 770.]The Prime Minister's letter to Lord Radcliffe refers to this and says (of the Secretary of State):He is convinced that the Library should be housed in Central London.But a little later on, in the same letter to the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, the Prime Minister said that before the Committee has reported it is not possible to reach firm conclusions on the possible splitting-up of the Library. And last week in the House of Commons, in reply to Questions, the Secretary of State said of the Committee:It will be free to make recommendations about the size and functions of that part of the National Library which they consider should be in Central London.So the sorry stage-by-stage dismemberment hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, may well come about.
If this dismemberment is really planned, it would be more straightforward for Ministers to tell us so now. Noble Lords are in no doubt, if this is the plan, that it runs counter to overwhelming informed advice. For years scholars in the country and overseas have accepted, in the words of the Royal Commission, that:The essential characteristic of the supreme national libraryis thatit is not confined to any single demand of learning and on its present basis we believe it to represent the most far-reaching and the most powerful aid to scholarship in the world".If this act of folly is carried through—to use a phrase of one of my colleagues who used it in one of our discussions, and I know he will not mind my using it—it will turn what is a disaster into a catastrophe. Nor do your Lordships need any convincing that if the Library is broken up it will be essential to try to build up, at great expense and difficulty, (and, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, mentioned, it might in some cases be impossible) a number of departmental libraries to serve the needs of scholarship and the collections.
We have had a good many references to the housing problems of the Borough 1221 of Camden. The Trustees can assure the noble Lord, Lord Snow, that these housing problems are not the sort of problem that we would write off casually. Noble Lords have also been told of the letter of the chairman of the Planning and Development Committee of the Borough of Camden, who wrote, in very sensible language:Obviously the building of a national library transcends local issues".It is certainly the feeling of very large numbers of people that while, of course, it will bring disturbance to some, it will create much more of value to London than it destroys.
The right honourable gentleman the Member for Vauxhall, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, referred, said in the other place that the number of people to be rehoused was probably 550, over a possible period of 10 years. In referring to his own constituency he said that the number of people rehoused each year is 3,000, whereas this is a problem of rehousing 550 people over ten years. Therefore he added:If the project is sound, the housing obligation of the council, which can be shared with the G.L.C., is not one which justifies turning it down.But that, he went on, is:the prime argument on which my right honourable friend said he turned it down.Other references have been made to the letter in The Times, from Mr. Shaw, the chairman of the Planning and Development Committee at Camden. I know, as other noble Lords know, that subsequently Mr. Shaw seems to have agreed with the council resolution welcoming the Government decision. But whatever may have gone on privately between Government supporters on the council—and I hesitate to speculate on that—his letter is on record. He wrote in that letter:We have never voiced outright opposition nor objection to the scheme on principle. We confidently expected further consultations with the Ministry in order to try to resolve our difficulties.Indeed, my Lords, the Trustees would not have been in the least surprised—they would have thought it not unreasonable but thoroughly sensible—if the Government felt this way: that we should have been asked by the Ministry to meet with the Camden Council and consider such modifications of the plan as they 1222 might wish to make; or even, if they made out a strong case, a new plan, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has suggested. Imagine also our surprise when, two days after Mr. Shaw's letter, we read a statement by Mr. Aldington, the president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, whose building was still to be acquired.
Lord Radcliffe was ill at the time that the Secretary of State was going to make his statement and it fell to me to try to collect as many Trustees as possible to go and see the Secretary of State. When the Secretary of State wished to see us on October 25–24 hours before he was going to make his announcement and after his decision was made—our office staff were told that the reason for his sudden requirement was that the Minister had given an undertaking to the Pharmaceutical Society that he would make a statement before November 3 and that he proposed to do so on October 26, the day after seeing the Trustees.
Our natural inference was that the Pharmaceutical Society wished to know what the position was about their building and that it was essential to end their uncertainty. We naturally assumed that the Society had to make up their own mind and wanted to know by an agreed date, November 3, what the Government plans were. But meanwhile the Society (and it is almost incomprehensible that this was unknown to the Government: and if it was known, no indication whatever was given to us of this by the Secretary of State) had already started work on preparations for a new site in Lambeth. The President's statement read:If the Council's decision is to stay in Bloomsbury"—he was referring to the Pharmaceutical Council—we shall expect the Government to reimburse the Society for the very considerable expenditure on fees and other matters and this claim will be very energetically pursued.We had naturally assumed that the Secretary of State's statement would please the Pharmaceutical Society. The last word in this bizarre episode is with Mr. Aldington, the Society's President. He said:The Society has been suddenly put in an unenviable position.My Lords, I pass briefly to two other points. The first relates to the property 1223 in Bloomsbury. At the beginning of 1964, about £1¼ million worth of property had been acquired. In 1964, the year when the Labour Government were elected, a further £303,000 was acquired; the next year £377,000; and in 1966 and this year, taken together, a further £135,000. Are we really to understand that while they were holding the fear of compulsory purchase over people in Bloomsbury, and spending public money on these acquisitions, they were seriously giving consideration to scrapping the whole scheme? In all, about three-fifths of the property has now been acquired. In March of this year the Trustees were told by the Ministry of Public Building and Works that a provisional sum of £500,000 had been included in the Ministry's Estimates for 1967–68 for the purpose of acquiring other properties. I think the Trustees are entitled to be absolutely astonished, first as Trustees, and then as citizens, ratepayers and taxpayers, at such an extraordinary situation. We could only speculate at what went on behind the scenes, whose influence was at work; and I join with other noble Lords in asking that we should know, for certainly the Trustees and the Standing Commission were told nothing.
May I ask the noble Earl the Leader of the House to say, when he winds up, what is to happen to all this property? I note with interest that when the honourable Member for Southend asked the Minister of Public Building and Works a few weeks ago whether he would bear in mind that there should be no disposal of this property which would have the effect of prejudging the report of the new Committee on Libraries, the Minister answered: "I agree about that". He said,That is why we want to talk to the G.L.C. and the Camden Borough Council about the future of the site as a whole.But, of course, the Prime Minister's letter to the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe appears, on inference, to repudiate that, in that the site has been abandoned and, according to the Prime Minister, in effect abandoned for all time. The Minister of Public Building and Works concluded his answer to the honourable Member for Southend, by saying:When that has been decided we must link up with the other policies of the Government.1224 We are left in a complete state of confusion about what those other policies are, and I wonder very much whether Ministers on the Front Bench, here or in another place, know themselves. Perhaps the right honourable gentlemen feel like the Indonesian Finance Minister, who was reported recently to have said, "Anyone who is not thoroughly confused with the present economic situation in Indonesia must be very badly informed". It would be interesting to see how far the Government consider themselves bound by the undertaking given in the Crichel Down debate in 1954 concerning the right of recovery of property by a former owner or successor who can establish a special personal claim.
My Lords, I am nearly at the end of what I have to say, but I should like to deal with one point which has been raised by one of the lone speakers supporting Her Majesty's Government and which I suspect may be raised subsequently by the Leader of the House when he comes to wind up the debate. That concerns the apparent readiness of the Trustees to consent to partial dismemberment at the time of the agreed transfer of scientific and technical books. The Secretary of State for Education and Science in another place—and I, having sat in the other place for thirty years and with only a few years here, was with difficulty restrained from interrupting him, because I have rarely heard such an outrageous imputation put on an action forced on us by Government stinginess and lack of interest—said that in July, 1958, the then Government themselves made a decision to split the Library into two. They (that is, the Trustees), he said, separated off the scentific books which they put into Whiteleys. Periodicals had also been hived off to Colindale.
This tended to give the impression, I imagine—and it certainly succeeded in some uninformed cases—that we were glad to go to Whiteleys with our scientific books, and, indeed, had suggested it. Presumably, it was hoped to reconcile friends of the Library to dismemberment by arguing that if the British Museum had been forced to outhouse certain books, why not make a virtue out of necessity—as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said in a letter—and act accordingly? We had no wish whatever to see those books housed elsewhere, 1225 but we were forced into it for the following reasons.
It may be argued that in the case of the natural sciences and their related techniques such an arrangement may be tolerable, as research students in these subjects mostly use recent literature on science and technology, and make little use of miscellaneous literature. None the less, the plan to outhouse the collection was not of our choosing. I could not make out what the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, meant when he referred to this—whether he was chiding us for having accepted the offer (to which I will come in a moment) to go to the South Bank, or whether he was chiding us for having rejected it.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Viscount to say that I was chiding them for having accepted it, and, through that, for being very short-sighted about the matter.
§ VISCOUNT BOYD OF MERTON
My Lords, if that was what the noble Lord meant (one or two of my noble friends had that feeling, but I had the feeling that he meant something else) I wonder what the Government would have said if we had been offered, as we were offered, a site and then had rejected it. They would have said, quite naturally, "We have done our best to accommodate the Trustees, and they have scorned our suggestion". We were first told that there would be made ready for us a building on the South Bank to house the Patent Office and the Reference Library below it. The Trustees, when agreeing to this, were much influenced by the fact that the building was to be finished in 1965, two years ago, while the new Library was not to start until the 1970s. So we agreed to the physical separation and then, not because of any failure on the part of the Trustees, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, agreed quite rightly we accepted the suggestion; but that offer was withdrawn.
Incidentally, subsequent stages in the history of this other library, if we can call it a library—and noble Lords will remember that in our Report to Parliament we say "it is impossible at the moment to know whether to refer to the library as a fact or as a mere title"—make almost incredible reading. The great new reference library planned for 1226 1955 is now divided between the old Patent Office Library, with its hopelessly inadequate open access, and the upper floors of Whiteley's, incapable of being used at the moment for open access at all, and it would be ludicrous if this argument were now used as the reason why we should split up our books and outhouse them for serious study.
This is not the end of the story. We were suddenly told that our hopes could rise again. This was when I was Chairman of the Building Committee. We were told that as a permanent home for the National Reference Library for Science and Technology we might have a site on the South Bank of the Thames between the end of Vauxhall Bridge and the Nine Elms Cold Store. This was not ideal in many ways, but at the first meeting after this suggestion was made the Trustees said, "We must not be put in the position of rejecting any serious suggestion made by the Government", and so straight away we indicated our readiness to consider this site seriously with the Government. We took this up at once and urged that we should proceed with the Ministry without delay to make arrangements to site the Library there.
Then came what I suppose we should have expected, a further communication from the Ministry of Public Building and Works that we could not regard the Vauxhall site except as a potential site for the Science Library. They said thatit was mentioned simply as an example of the sort of alternative site which might be found available and considered in Central London but no more.I would ask noble Lords to consider how serious and busy people can cope with the problems of the Museum when relations with Ministers are handled in that way.
Incidentally, my Lords, I must make one other reference to events which have happened in another field, that is, the proposed temporary move of the Department of Ethnography. We of course hoped that the building of the Library on the Bloomsbury site would revolutionise our space problem, and we had no wish or intention to part with the ethnography exhibits permanently. But we urgently needed temporary quarters for this Department. On October 13 this year Miss Jennie Lee wrote to tell us 1227 that approval had been given for the move of the Ethnography Department to Burlington Gardens. In the absence of the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, I opened that letter and replied warmly, indeed in a fulsome fashion, to Miss Lee—and I join with the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, in saying that we have found Miss Lee ready to help and interested in museum problems when she had the power to be. So I wrote to her a warm and perhaps an over-fulsome letter.
Then once more the almost inevitable development happened. Soon after my letter thanking her had arrived we were told that the Minister's letter had not made it quite clear; that it had not yet been decided whether the cost of this project should fall upon the sum already voted for the 12-year plan of reconstruction for the National Museums and Galleries, or whether separate finance should be provided. We were told, therefore, that until this question of finance had been settled, the Minister did not consider the time right for a public announcement, and we were asked to give no publicity to this move meanwhile. We observed that we were surprised we had been offered something when no financial provisions had apparently been made. We observed this request, but noted with interest a recent and rather curious dialogue between Miss Lee and the honourable Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South, who was told that the plans we were asked not to talk about were now in an advanced stage of consideration. This, presumably, is one of the "exciting things planned" for the Museum about which the Minister spoke in another place a fortnight ago. But no doubt the Trustees will one day hear, or perhaps read, what is intended in this field.
I join with my noble friend Lord Radcliffe in deeply regretting the harsh and critical things that circumstances may force us to say, and can only conclude by urging the noble Earl the Leader of the House at least to give an undertaking, in view of the almost overwhelming criticism which this proposal has elicited in your Lordships' House, that he will undertake with his colleagues a reconsideration of the plan and follow one or other of the wise alternative courses that 1228 have been suggested by noble Lords before me.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, it is now forty years since I wrote an article for an undergraduate paper in Oxford, in which I described the noble Viscount who has just spoken as "the Isis idol of the week". My feelings for him have never varied, but he will forgive me if to-night they stop short of any open exhibition of idolatory. In the absence of the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, for reasons which we all understand and regret, I am afraid that I may have to pass sharper comments on the critics who remain than might otherwise have been the case.
Though it would be impossible for me to object to some of the remarks which have fallen from the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd of Merton, there is one point on which I want to comment now, before getting more deeply involved. The noble Viscount referred to the Pharmaceutical Society. In view of what he has said, I ought to inform the House that when the Society called on the Minister of Public Building and Works they made it clear that they were not opposing the decision to abandon the Bloomsbury site, but if it were possible on a reasonable basis they would prefer to stay on at their Bloomsbury premises. I do not want to carry that argument further, but I thought it right to mention that fact.
The noble Lord, Lord Snow, in an extraordinarily judicial speech, from which I suppose no one emerged with any great credit, though he was at least lenient to all, suggested that harsher words had been used in the House to-day than in any debate he can remember. That, I think, is true in my fairly long experience here. The most reverend Primate asked me whether I, as Government spokesman, would repudiate some of the words of my esteemed colleague the Secretary of State for Education and Science, to the effect that he saw no reasons for one of the positions held by his opponents. I am perfectly prepared to ask my right honourable friend whether he would care to qualify those words if the most reverend Primate would try to prevail on those who have criticised the Government to-day to withdraw the much more violent language to which 1229 we have been compelled to listen with such courtesy as we could muster, such as "arrogant", though we have become quite used to that.
I feel that what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, was very much to the point. He begged the critics to be slightly less infallible in their own esteem, and to believe that a monopoly of wisdom is not the prerogative of any one side. Perhaps when the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, replies, he may improve on the record of the critics in that respect. But sharp things have been said. I am in a difficulty because the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, is on record as having spoken in a most monstrously unfair way about my colleagues, but for reasons which we all appreciate he cannot be here, and I must reply to him briefly. He gave a totally distorted view of what had occurred, as I will show, in at least one case. He heaped all this rather cheap invective on people whom I should think in his heart he respects, judging by his previous relations with them.
§ VISCOUNT BOYD OF MERTON
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Earl, but if he is going to discuss the speech of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, at length, I should not like my silence to pass for any suggestion that my fellow Trustees and I are agreeing with any criticism of the noble Viscount that the noble Earl may make.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I fully appreciate that. But we listened in silence to the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, and I can assure the House that my language will not be a tenth as strong as what fell from him. I would take up one point that he made. When he referred to the National Reference Library I really thought that he was suffering from a mild form of persecution mania. If noble Lords read his speech in Hansard tomorrow, they will find that he appeared to regard the attitude of the Government as aimed at deliberately discrediting the Trustees. That is totally false—quite fantastic, I submit. There have been long delays in trying to find a site for the National Reference Library and the Library of Science and Invention. That occurred under the last Government—I do not 1230 make any Party point of that—and the difficulties have continued under this Government. In fact, during the last 18 months the problem has been one for the British Museum rather than for the Government. The Ministry of Education and Science have been trying to help the British Museum recently to make out a certain case to the Treasury. It would be a gross misrepresentation to refer to the Government as being responsible in the cases brought up, so perhaps we can dispose of that issue now.
Let me turn to a more pleasant subject, to the two maiden speeches that have been made. There they sit, the twin brethren who have joined us: Castor and Pollux—I nearly said Cain and Abel, but that would have forced me to say which was Abel and which was Cain, and that would have been a very painful task. They greatly add to the reputation of your Lordships' House—the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, the embodiment of sound judgment, and the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Hungershall, exhibiting the brilliant individuality which makes the Labour Party so peculiar to outsiders and so beloved by all who know it well.
There are one or two points that I wish to make before I come to the main themes. I must dispose firmly of this idea that Camden have withdrawn their objections. Once or twice in the afternoon eminent men, criticising the Government, have treated the Camden objection as having more or less faded out, and there has been reference to this excellent gentleman, Mr. Shaw, who has gained national fame recently. We need not involve him personally very much. I had the pleasure of a conversation with Mr. Shaw. I thought it was only right to talk to him as I was going to discuss the affairs of Camden in front of your Lordships and I do not think that he could possibly object to what I am going to say now. I should like simply to call attention to the resolution passed by the Camden Council in October, 1966 (I will not read it all unless the House wishes), asking the Minister of Public Building and Works to take into account:to-day's strong feeling against destroying any further residential city areas, especially in Central London, coupled to the particular problem of rehousing the people living on the site.1231 That was the Camden Council's protest in October 1966. Whatever anybody else may have said, it has had a considerable influence on the history of this affair. The noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, if he were with us, would recall—and it is in the record of the meeting with Mr. Crosland which has been circulated to him—that Mr. Crosland warned him that these Camden objections clearly had to be taken very seriously.
I come to recent times, developing what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd of Merton. The Camden Council, since the decision, have passed this resolution:That this Camden Borough Council concerned with the welfare of the inhabitants welcome the decision of the Secretary of State for Education and Science regarding the British Museum expansion. The Council reiterates its policy of opposition to the continuing encroachment on residential accommodation in Central London and urges Her Majesty's Government to give practical support towards that policy.That is the most up-to-date pronouncement from the Camden Council. I hope it will be clearly understood that this resolution, which was sponsored by Mr. Shaw, among others, must represent the latest state of mind of the good people of Camden.
I turn to one or two other particular points. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who in some ways cancelled out the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, asked me to make sure that the Government were within their legal rights in doing what they were doing. The noble Lord is a lawyer of experience and I am just a layman, but I can assure him that all my advice is that they are completely within their legal rights. He asked particularly whether there was any need for the Government to hold an inquiry. Perhaps I do not need to tell a master of the subject that there is no need for the Government to hold an inquiry before they decide that they no longer want a site reserved to them. If and when the planning authorities propose a new use for the site, they will submit the amendment to the Development Plan, and it will be for the Ministry to decide whether there is a need to hold an inquiry into the amendment.
The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, asked me, among one or two other points which 1232 I hope I shall cover in the general argument, what was the present position of the site, if I understood him aright in a legal sense, or at any rate in an administrative sense. The site is still designated in planning terms for a National Library. Before purchasers can be expected to show a responsible interest it is necessary to know what uses instead of a library will be permitted; and discussions about this with the G.L.C. and Camden have already started. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi—
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
Perhaps I might just finish this, because it all goes together. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, asked me whether a preservation order would be maintained. The needs of preservation, I can assure him, will be attended to in the discussions that I have just mentioned. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, much of whose speech I missed, for pointing, out that this Government are deeply devoted to the arts. I think the fact that we have appointed a Minister for the Arts for the first time, in Miss Lee, to whom generous tributes were paid, is at any rate one illustration of that truth.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. He has answered half the question that I put to him. The other half of the particular question was whether he could confirm that the land which had been acquired would be held as it is at present until the Committee had reported.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
May I give the answer to that in the course of my remarks, because I think it will become apparent?
We now come to the main issues that have been before us. I hope the House will forgive me if I do not pursue the question of consultation. I felt that my noble friend Lady Phillips dealt with that most effectively, and I do not know that your Lordships would wish me at this time of night to say any more on that subject.
Does anyone doubt that a far-reaching decision had to be made about this site in this period? If you ask me about the precise timing, I think the reason for it is fairly clear by now, and most of those 1233 who have stayed are somewhat expert in the subject. I think the House is aware of the special reasons for making the announcement. We could not keep all the people whose sites we had not bought in suspense while the Dainton Committee considered the matter. Once it was decided that it was necessary to set up the Dainton Committee, there was no practical or probable alternative to reaching a clear decision and announcing it so as to let those concerned know where they stood.
I would say that that refers to the timing at that moment, but perhaps I may come to an aspect of this which has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, before I close, as to whether there is any chance of reversing or suspending this decision, which is a rather different point affecting the future. I am giving the reason why a decision had to be made at that time. I am a little depressed—but, after all, one is accustomed to that—at the relative lack of interest shown in the Dainton Committee to-day. Perhaps it was because people wondered whether this Committee was going to get off the ground at all soon.
I am able to answer the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, in an encouraging sense, in that I am now in a position to announce the composition of the Dainton Committee. It is as follows: Dr. F. S. Dainton, Chairman, Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham University; Dr. David Talbot Rice, Professor of History and Fine Art, Edinburgh; Sir Roy Allen, Professor of Statistics, London University; John Brown, publisher Oxford University Press; and Sir Bernard Miller, Chairman of John Lewis Partnership. That is the composition of the Committee, and I hope those names will be felt by the House to be entirely worthy of the far-reaching task which has fallen to them.
§ LORD ROBBINS
My Lords, Can the noble Earl inform the House whether any of these gentlemen has technical experience of running a library?
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I would need notice of that question, my Lords. I should imagine it is intended to produce the answer "No", but I should have to 1234 look into it if the noble Lord is interested in the point. I know the noble Lord stays on well to the end and I will give him the opinion of librarians if that is what he is interested in.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
Someone will have to supply me with them. I thought they had been announced already, and I did not feel that it was necessary to inflict them on the House. Certainly the main purport of the terms has been published. There, at any rate, is the Dainton Committee, and I should hope that this House, on the whole, in spite of some words that fell from the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, would agree not only that these are excellent gentlemen, but that this is a task that really needs doing.
I think the noble Baroness made it plain that it is only in the last two years that all these national libraries have come together under the supervision—the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, introduced the word "ægis" rather sarcastically, but they have come together under the supervision, or ægis, or umbrella, or whatever expression one likes to use—of the Ministry of Education and Science. After considering the whole matter, those most concerned in the Ministry have come to the conclusion that an inquiry of this sort should be held. I do not need to repeat all the arguments about the lack of coordination and overlapping that exists to-day in our library system. I hope that on the whole, the House will agree that this task which has been entrusted to the Dainton Committee is one that certainly needed doing.
The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, asks me whether this Committee contains any librarians or gentlemen with experience of running libraries. If that is going to be our criterion, let us invoke the opinions of the Library Association, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Snow in his very interesting speech, in regard to the whole conception of an inquiry. These were conveyed to the Secretary of State before the Dainton Committee was announced, but I have no reason to think they would wish to modify them now. I am now quoting from the Library Association, the 1235 gentlemen who would command the confidence of Lord Robbins. They say:The question of the best allocation of responsibility and the best administrative machinery for the operation of all national reference lending and bibliography services should be independently investigated.So I hope the noble Lord will agree that, taking the test of his own chosen instrument, the librarians, we are doing the wise and sensible thing, the essential thing, in setting up this Committee.
§ LORD ROBBINS
My Lords, I always much dislike to disagree with the noble Earl, but I humbly submit that what he says is not in the least reassuring. It is one thing for the Association of Librarians to say there are certain questions which need to be investigated. It is another thing to say that a Committee which has no technical expertise among its numbers is competent so to do.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
Well, my Lords, I do not know what is to be called technical expertise, but if you were investigating the libraries of this country I should not think you would start off by introducing a number of librarians into the committee. Their business is to give evidence and supply expert advice. The noble Lord says he is not reassured. If I may so—if he will not take this amiss—I do not think he is in a mood to be reassured. I do not think there is anything I can say on this topic which would reassure him.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I am afraid that tonight he is not over-reaching himself.
My Lords, I must not anticipate, of course—and this is one of the things that perhaps add to the not negligible task with which I am concerned—the findings of the Dainton Committee. Therefore, in that sense, a Government spokesman is bound to be rather dull on the proper way to organise libraries, because until this Committee has pronounced it would be quite wrong for him, or for the Government collectively, to begin saying how libraries ought to be organised. Take this very important question, dealt with so brilliantly at times by speakers, at any rate in a very heartfelt way by speakers—the question whether the 1236 Museum and the Library must go together there. I quote the Library Association's Memorandum:It is the Association's opinion that the functions of a National Library are in no way cognate"—this fits in with the views of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook—to those of a National Museum, and that the Library should finally be established as a separate entity, divorced entirely from the British Museum and with its own Board of Trustees or Governors.I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, reminded me to bring in the views of the Association. I might otherwise have failed to remember to quote them on this all-important point.
I would say, going back to an earlier point of the most reverend Primate, that whether or not this view is right—and I am not saying this is the view of the Government, because they have come to no particular view on this point; they are awaiting the views of the Dainton Committee—it suggests that those who treat it as a law of nature (and we have had quite a bit of that earlier in the debate) that the Library and the Museum should go together are greatly overstating the case. I hope he will agree that there are two sides to that argument.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I was not pleading for a dogmatic acceptance of the thesis that they should go together. I was pleading for the admissibility of it as something worth discussing.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
That is what we are trying to do. I hope we are now engaged in an increasingly amicable discussion.
Of course, I may be asked, "Is it really the Library argument you are resting on, or the Camden argument, the housing argument?" Here I am reminded of some words that fell from the predecessor of the most reverend Primate, the noble Lord, Lord Fisher of Lambeth, when he was being interrogated by the late noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, in a debate on Christian unity. He was asked, in effect, whether he was a Protestant or a Catholic, and he replied, "Both". I am sure that the most reverend Primate will remember that answer. And if I am asked whether we are standing on the Library argument, or the housing argument, I refuse to distinguish. We are relying on both.
1237 The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, simulating a simplicity which I do not associate with him—and I do not treat simplicity as a virtue, in politics, anyway—asked me whether the decision to set up the Dainton Committee could be related at all to the decision about the site. I would hope that before I finish, in a very few minutes, he will feel that that point has been clarified. The two strands of argument have coalesced in our decision. In the last resort we consider that to destroy the housing of 900 people, in an area where there are already 9,000 on the waiting list, and to destroy a number of buildings which in some eyes, at least, are of artistic value, is initially, as Lord Annan said so well, an evil thing. We start from that position. How far that would have led us, without this view of the Library position, one cannot say. But, as it is, there is the Library side to this, and the housing side to this, and in our view those two arguments together defeat the very real arguments which clearly exist on the other side.
As I draw to a close I am bound to face the pleas that have been made—the eloquent pleas in most respects, the moving pleas. They moved me to sympathy at all times; they did not move me to indignation, so in that sense they were moving pleas altogether. Pleas were made which one is bound to respect by those who have themselves given great service to the Museum, and who are speaking on behalf of others outside this House who have rendered perhaps still more lifelong service. A decision has been reached, and I am asked whether it could be suspended. My Lords, it would make my task very easy if I could inform the House that that was so. But that decision, the decision reached, whether welcome or not—and personally I welcome and endorse it wholeheartedly, coming into this question as a fresh student—cannot now be reversed or suspended. It would be quite unthinkable—I would hope that noble Lords, even those who are very disappointed by what I am saying now, will see the force of this—to inform the Camden Borough Council, for example, that we had had second or belated thoughts and now regarded the matter for the time being as an open question. That would be a total negation of government, and anyone who poured scorn on us after that would be 1238 justified indeed. Of course, if we had second thoughts or doubts about the wisdom of the step, then indeed we should be in a dilemma. But, speaking for myself, while I see the arguments on the other side—for I do not at all take the ground that all the arguments are on one side—I consider that the overwhelming balance is now in favour of going forward.
I hope that the House will not feel that, in taking a decision of this kind, we are setting aside lightly opposing views, from Trustees, from the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, onwards, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, and others. I hope it will not feel that we are setting aside those opinions as though they were unimportant. We still consider that the views expressed before this decision was reached—expressed in discussions between Lord Radcliffe and Mr. Crosland, and later in writing—were weighty and considerable, though they have not been added to, and our decision must rest. But I hope that no one will go away feeling that we are careless of the services rendered, particularly by the staff of the British Museum—we recognise that there are others—to which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, made poignant reference.
I am not going to accept for a moment the view of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. Frankly, I thought for a moment he could hardly be serious when he said that every educated man would be outraged by this decision. I do not know whether he remembers the poem, "Chuck it, Smith!" addressed by G. K. Chesterton to the late Lord Birkenhead. I will not say it, but let it be understood that anybody who speaks like that must be thought to be joking; and I have a deep regard for the noble Lord, as he knows. This revulsion of feeling can be exaggerated, but I do not deny that distress has been caused among people.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, may I say that what I thus described was the announcement and the way it was announced, against the wishes and without any consultation with the Trustees. That is what I so described; and I believe it. But I share the noble Earl's admiration for that particular poem.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, if the noble Lord really thinks 1239 that every educated man in this country is outraged by a decision announced in that way, I am afraid that we are, for once, a hundred miles apart.
We have had an excellent debate. We are all very grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, whose concern and that of his colleagues is well known to us and appreciated. I hope that nothing I have said could possibly cause any pain to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, when he reads it. He said he expected one or two fairly sharp words, and I think he would have thought it rather patronising if I did not speak in the way I have. But we regard this as an issue on which honest, well-informed people can differ. The view of the Government is perfectly clear, and it would be dishonest if we did not this evening tell the House and the whole country what is going to happen.
My Lords, may I, at the risk of appearing simple, ask the noble Earl again the question I thought he was going to answer? I have heard with distress what he has said about the Government's intentions, but can he nevertheless assure us that no directive has been given to the committee which would preclude them recommending the Bloomsbury site if they were so minded?
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, to the best of my knowledge no directive has been given; but in view of what I have said this evening, it would clearly be otiose for them to make such a suggestion.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ECCLES
My Lords, we have had the kind of debate which in one sense justifies your Lordships' House, in that many excellent speeches have been made. I should like to join with others particularly in paying tribute to the two noble Lords, Lord Fiske, and Lord Evans of Hungershall, both of whose speeches were most informed contributions. I sit under the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Hungershall, in the Printed Books Committee, and although I knew that he would make a good speech I did not know that he was also such a graceful speaker. I hope very much to 1240 hear him again. As for the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, I wonder what it is like to be on the other side of the planning business. We, of course, have been frustrated all these years, and he seemed to think that in some sense we should have in some way given up and not gone on for twenty years. If we have gone on for twenty years it is because we believed in it.
I have just one word to say to the noble Earl, the Leader of the House. He has told us nothing. He really has been a splendid example of what the noble Lord, Lord Snow, said so well: that we are now governing our country with words that mean nothing, and that is what I think is so terrible. I am a humble man, but I am a man of action, and I have always believed that government meant doing things. We are now being governed by words in public and acts behind the scenes for which we never get the true reasons. This, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Snow, and the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, is a serious thing for our system of life.
What the noble Earl has told us is the names of the Committee. Two of the gentlemen on it I know and respect; I do not know the others. These are intelligent people whose judgment upon the structure of the Library Service may be very good, but only if they are treated properly, only if they really are allowed to have put before them the evidence of the experts in this business.
How can anybody suppose that the British Museum is not the largest element of the decision which they have to reach? We all know it is true. But by what the noble Earl has just said, the views of the Trustees of the British Museum, which they have considered over years, are not to be taken into consideration by this Committee. The site of Great Russell Street, which is the foundation of the whole planning of our Library extension, is ruled out. This, I think, is another example of thoroughly bad government. If the noble Earl thinks he has heard the last of this business he is very much mistaken. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.