Skip to main content

Historical Documents (Sale)

Volume 235: debated on Wednesday 26 February 1930

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the sale to a United States collector by the Royal Institution of Great Britain of the headquarters' papers of the British Army during the American revolutionary war; and whether he proposes to take action to restrain the sale of British historical documents to persons in foreign countries?


asked the Prime Minister if he is aware of the sale of the Carleton or Dorchester papers to a private individual in the United States; and if he will take steps to make it illegal to sell documents of historic interest to private citizens of foreign countries?

I have just heard of the sale of these papers. From the historical point of view, hon. Members may know that the papers formed the subject of four volumes published some years ago by the Historical Manuscripts Commission. So far as public despatches are concerned, I understand that the Public Record Office have copies of the despatches to America, and originals of the despatches from America to this country. The remainder of the collection consists of correspondence which passed in America. The question of taking steps to prevent the sale abroad of historical manuscripts has been considered by successive Governments, but I regret no practicable policy has so far been found which would meet all the various cases which arise. I consider, however, that it is the duty of those possessing documents of national historical value to give an opportunity, should need arise for their sale, for their retention in this country.

Will not the right hon. Gentleman investigate the circumstances under which this sale took place, the particular circumstances attending the sale, and will he see whether even now he cannot take some action thereon?

I regret very much to say that the contract is absolutely and fully complete and that nothing can be done to undo it.

Is it not very reprehensible that the officials of this institution should have kept the matter quiet until the whole thing was brought to completion?

If they did not inform him or any member of the Government, will the right hon. Gentleman ask them to keep the Government informed in the future if they intend to sell more manuscripts?

I purposely put the last sentence in my reply so that not only those officials but the whole public ought to know that in fairness to the nation they ought to disclose their intentions to the Government.

Does not the right bon. Gentleman think that there is a particular duty upon an institution which has a Royal Charter to preserve these documents in this country?