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Clause 7—(Separation Of Natural History Museum)

Volume 674: debated on Wednesday 27 March 1963

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

I beg to move, in page 3, line 35, to leave out Clause 7.

I feel that I must move the Amendment, especially as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), in whose name the Amendment stands, is not able to stay with us to complete the Bill tonight.

This matter was quite fully debated during the Committee proceedings and there were divisions of opinion on both sides. The Amendment to delete this Clause from the Bill was rejected by a narrow majority. I understand that since then there have been further discussions with the Trustees, and that they are not unanimous on the matter either. It therefore remains a contentious point, and the purpose of moving the Amendment is not to have a long debate, or to press the House to divide on it, but to keep this matter sufficiently alive to encourage further discussion on it in another place.

If there are further arguments to be adduced, or fresh opinions to be expressed before the Bill is finally disposed of, it may be as well for them to be fully deployed in the remaining stages of the Bill elsewhere. There are, I believe, some weighty opinions to be expressed in another place by Trustees who have deep knowledge of the problems of the Museum, and who may be against the separation of the Natural History Museum from the British Museum and the appointment of separate Trustees.

In the Standing Committee we had a very interesting debate in which I played a very minor and undistinguished part, because we got to marrying the arts and a kind of transcental—

That shows that I was ill-equipped to take part in this erudite discussion on this Amendment in Committee, so I beg to withdraw from it now.

too, will not speak at length. A number of hon. Members raised this matter on Second Reading, and the longest discussion in Committee was on this point. The Committee divided, and we were defeated, although we had the assistance of one hon. Gentleman from the other side. Generally, though, I agree that we should leave the matter to be discussed in another place.

The Chief Secretary used an interesting argument as to why we should avoid alienation of the Trustees when we discussed manuscripts. He spoke of the value of the Trustees, and said that if they think strongly about a matter we should think carefully before we oppose them. When my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) spoke on this matter in Committee upstairs he referred to a letter from the Trustees, one paragraph of which read as follows:
"The Trustees expressed a hope that their views might be placed on record when the Bill was debated in Parliament, and that it should be stated that it was not at the wish of the Trustees that the total separation of the two Museums should take place."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A. 12th March, 1963, c. 102.]
I naturally quote those words to remind the Chief Secretary that one cannot have it both ways on two Amendments—that is to say, if we are to consider the views of the Trustees on one Amendment we should as closely consider them on the next. I hope that he will bear in mind the fact that the Trustees feel strongly on this issue, and that the Economic Secretary gave us some hope when he said that there would at least be some common Trustees in the two institutions. If there is anything we can be told tonight that will give us a little comfort we shall be very glad of it.

We had a very interesting discussion on this Clause in Committee. At this hour I will not seek to reopen it, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary will hesitate before thinking of amending the Bill simply by dropping the Clause. I agree absolutely that considerable disquiet has been expressed by many of the Trustees that there should be a total separation between the two bodies responsible for governing the two Museums in future. I understand that argument, but we do not put the matter right by pulling out this Clause, because we are then driven back to Clause I, in which we have a body of 25 Trustees, most of whom will presumably be chosen because of their supposed suitability for running the affairs of the British Museum in Bloomsbury. By no stretch of the imagination could that body be stretched to include the administration of two quite different types of institution.

That is my real objection to deleting the Clause, although I go a good way with the hon. Members who have spoken in believing that we have not necessarily heard the last word on how we might achieve, in the final structure of the Bill, some sort of connecting link between the two bodies of Trustees. Whether it is best to leave the matter to the two bodies, with an expression of hope from this House that they will form a coordinating body of the two sets of Trustees, or to write something into the Bill to provide for this, I cannot say. Perhaps there will be some further reference to this matter in another place. But it would be a great pity if the homogeneity of the Museum up to now should be entirely shattered.

I do not think that: getting rid of this Clause would be an acceptable solution; it would drive us into an altogether worse situation. I hope that my hon. Friend will tell us whether he has had any further thoughts on the way in which these difficulties might be resolved.

11.0 p.m.

The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson) has reminded us of the discussion we had in Committee about this matter. I find no paradox in that we should be discussing it again tonight, if only shortly, for it is indeed a most important matter. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South that we cannot solve the constructive problems we want to solve for the future simply by dropping Clause 7.

I flatly disagree with the hon. Member for Sowerby when he so modestly said that he made virtually no contribution to our discussions on this point in Committee. That was very far from being the case, as hon. Members on both sides will remember well. One of the sentences in his intervention was followed by the word, in square brackets, "Laughter". It takes a great deal to achieve that in HANSARD, as we are all aware. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary says, "Try to get it in now". That is a challenge I willingly accept and I shall do my best in a moment.

There are a number of points I have been asked to discuss and I hope that I shall give some reassurance to hon. Members here tonight. The first point is one which again was made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central in Committee with all the feeling of which he is capable when he quoted the Act of 1753. He made the point that all arts and sciences have connection with one another. I can assure him that it is not the wish of the Government in any sense to dispute that. Nothing could be more important. On the other hand, we do not believe that the proposal in the Bill will in any way drive a wedge between the two cultures or the two Museums. All that is proposed is that these two great and growing institutions—which are still growing and, we hope, will continue to grow—in future will have the opportunity further to develop. That, we believe, can best be achieved by a separation of some sort. I said something about the logic of this proposal and something about precedent during Committee. I will not go into those matters again, but I hope the hon. Member will feel that I can give him the most sincere reassurance on his point.

The hon. Member for Sowerby—here I hope I give the direct contradiction of his most modest statement—made the point in his short intervention in Committee that perhaps the separation of the two Museums to some extent would strengthen the hands of the Treasury. He went on to say, by inference, that the greater the fragmentation the more possible it would be for the wicked Treasury—I presume he had that adjective in mind—to divide and rule. I assure him that the arrangement in our opinion and experience is far more likely to work the other way and that two separate bodies of Trustees putting pressure on the Treasury for more money might well succeed in getting more in the aggregate. This is by no means a promise and I would not wish it to be construed as such, but I do not believe that the suggestion he made would be likely to apply; indeed I believe the reverse would be the case. In spite of that demerit, we think it right to persevere with this idea.

A little earlier I used the word "constructive". We were particularly fortunate in Committee in having a number of constructive and helpful proposals and among them were some made by my hon, Friend the Member for Croydon, South with his great experience as one of the Trustee body. I was asked particularly about the common membership of these Trustee bodies and gave the Committee some definite assurances on that point. I can now be even more definite and say that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been consulted on the matter and has intimated that it will certainly be his intention to try to find some persons willing to serve on both bodies. Not only was that point noted and remarked on, but action is proposed on it. I hope that will be reassuring and satisfactory to the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South made a further constructive suggestion, which was supported by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, that there should be consultative machinery. We agree that this proposal is valuable and important. We have, of course, taken advantage of the opporunity to discuss it with the Trustees. They are entirely in sympathy with the proposal and we are certainly prepared to commend it to the two new boards of Trustees when they are set up. The creation of such machinery should be one of their first tasks. I therefore reassure the House in regard to this particular matter.

Something has been said, particularly by the hon. Member for Sowerby, about the position of the Trustees, and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent referred especially to that. As the hon. Member for Sowerby said, there are mixed opinions among the Trustees. We do not have the position in which the Trustees are unanimously opposed to this proposal. It would be quite wrong to suggest that. I am grateful to see the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central nodding in agreement. I think that it is typical of that distinguished body of people, who truly have the future, the development, and the ideals of the British Museum so closely at heart, that they should be anxious and concerned about the future. I am sure the House would think very much less of them if they were not considering the matter with great care and caution. We are certain that this change will prove to be in the eventual interest of both Museums.

To say again something I said in Committee, I do not believe—nor does my right hon. Friend—in change for change's sake. But we do believe in change where there is opportunity for improvement and for progress. We believe that this development, the establishment of the two separate Boards of Trustees, will mark a new stage in the history of the British Museum and will give both Museums the opportunity to move forward and to develop to their fullest extent, which is, I am certain, whatever views may be held on this point, the common aim of every hon. Member and certainly every hon. Member who pays particular attention to the needs and future of the Museums.

I hope that what I have said will reassure hon. Members who have spoken and convince them that we are most concerned for the future to see great success made of this proposal.

In order to leave this matter unprejudiced in another place, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.—[ Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified].

11.7 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

As has already been indicated, we had a most useful and interesting discussion of the Bill in Standing Committee. It produced some valuable Amendments and some equally valuable suggestions, which, though they were not all suitable to be written into the Bill, are certainly well worth while having on record so that they can be kept in mind and acted upon by those responsible, whether it be the Government or the Trustees to be appointed in future under the Bill. It seemed to me that the Committee's approach to the whole matter contained in the Bill was that of a working party whose sole object was to co-operate in producing the best possible Bill. Perhaps I may be allowed to say how deeply grateful I was for all the courtesy and understanding I received while in charge of the Bill in Committee. I particularly appreciated the bipartisan approach which is typical of the approach of the House to the arts in general.

A number of questions arose on which I promised to think further in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and to have discussions with the Trustees. Some of those have been covered in the short debates we have already had this evening. Perhaps I may now mention the others briefly. Arising out of the discussion in Standing Committee on Clause 3, we promised to consider whether it might be wise or expedient to define the Trustees' responsibilities for management a little more closely. We have discussed this with the Trustees and they agreed with our feeling and with the view expressed by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in Committee that the Bill already gives as much guidance as is desirable, for example in regard to the use of lending powers, and that for the rest it is probably best to leave the Trustees the maximum discretion. The whole keynote of the Bill is streamlining and flexibility. In some fields it may be desirable to be more specific than in others. However, we believe that we have the balance about right.

I particularly remember the right hon. Gentleman saying that we must not tie the hands of the Trustees. I think that if it is the wish of the House that we should appoint as Trustees the most distinguished and most important men we can find with a true sense of responsibility and dedication, it surely must be right to put our trust to the fullest possible extent in them.

An Amendment was accepted earlier to meet the point made by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) on Clause 5 (1, c). This undoubtedly improves the Bill and I was grateful for what he said in this regard.

We have also promised to look again at the whole construction of Clause 5 in the light of the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies)—who has advised me that he cannot be here tonight—to the effect that the Trustees should have powers to dispose of objects which are adequately represented by other objects in the collection. There are difficulties about doing this, without giving wider powers than anyone would think desirable. The Trustees have told us that they would not wish to have such powers and that they would be most reluctant to make use of them. In these circumstances, we believe that hon. Members would agree that the best thing would be not to pursue the idea further.

Part of the idea which my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet had in mind was that of encouraging the Trustees to make surplus objects from the collection available to other museums. The Trustees will be able to do this by using the fashionable lending powers—I say "fashionable" because lending is properly becoming more fashionable these days—contained in Clause 4.

The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) raised a point of considerable importance in Committee when he suggested that rather than build a new library in Bloomsbury it would be more sensible to design the proposed new building for exhibition purposes and use the library in the existing building. It is an interesting idea which we considered with care. It is clear that plans are very well ahead, and a good deal of detailed preparatory work of a complicated character has had to be done. The hon. Member for Derby, North will be aware that if we accepted his idea the whole project might be set back substantially, perhaps for some years. We think, therefore, that the balance of advantage lies in carrying through the proposal as we have constructed it at present. However, we will look into his suggestion and we are grateful to him for making it.

The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) made the plea that when the Museum is disposing of duplicates they should be offered to other national collections. This is an important point and I can assure her that it is in the minds of many people. We are assured that the Museum is always ready to bear in mind the needs of other national collections.

The subject of display has been raised in many of our discussions and has been a thread, so to speak, running through the speeches of many hon. Members. We are all agreed about the uniqueness and world importance of the collections in the British Museum, not only in the Department of Oriental Antiquities and the Department of Ethnography, but also in other departments. The Museum is well aware of this. There is a great deal of scope for improvement in the display of these treasures in certain instances. As I say, the Museum is conscious of this and gives much thought to it. Progress is being made in this direction.

A ten-year plan of reconstruction and rehabilitation, worked out between the Museum, the Ministry of Public Building and Works and the Treasury, is being put into operation. I hope that the House is as pleased to receive this news as I am to give it. This programme includes a scheme of modernisation of the ethnography rooms; and a post of Display Officer has been approved. It is hoped that a person with special qualifications will soon be appointed.

When a great deal has to be done, it cannot all be done at once. We are endeavouring to make a constructive start on matters which are obviously urgent. The House can rest assured that the Government do not under-rate the importance of this work. We hope and expect that the Museum will be assisted in making progress as a result of the provisions of this Bill and what has been said in our discussions on it. That applies especially to the subject of display.

It is fair to say that there has been a wide measure of agreement over the Bill—with one exception which we discussed earlier—and such disagreement as we have had has been, I think, on matters of detail rather than principle, though some of them have been of some importance. I hope that hon. Members will agree that we can congratulate ourselves on having produced a constructive and workmanlike Measure. As my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary said on Second Reading, we have made very nearly a clean sweep of the complicated structure of British Museum legislation which has been built up over 200 years. I hope that the House will feel that we have preserved the best of the past while introducing forms and powers which look very much into the future.

I remember the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central saying especially that he hoped that this legislation would last for another 200 years. Well, that is a long time ahead, but the point is valid. Let us hope that this legislation does as much as the other did, and proves a solid foundation on which progress can be built. The British Museum is a great national institution. It is the wish of the Government, it is the intention of the Government, and of this House, that it shall continue to flourish, to grow and to improve for the delight and instruction of our people.

11.16 p.m.

The Economic Secretary was kind enough to pay tribute to the assistance that he had received from my hon. and right hon. Friends and, while appreciating what he has said, I should also say that we on this side acknowledge the sympathetic way in which, since the Bill was introduced, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have responded to the numerous suggestions we have made on Second Reading, in Committee and tonight to improve the Bill—and not only that, but to make detailed suggestions in regard to the organisation of the British Museum generally. If I may say so, the Minister has just made a valuable and important statement about the functions of the Museum, and has given us information about some of the projects immediately in hand.

There is only one of his remarks with which I might, perhaps, quarrel. He hoped that this Measure would last for another 200 years. I think that one of the values in the fact that the Government have had to introduce this Bill this Session has been that it has enabled hon. Members—and, through them, public opinion—to focus attention on the problems of the British Museum, which would not have been the case had the Bill not been necessary. Since I think that the ventilation in Parliament of some of the Museum's problems is very desirable, and proves valuable to the Trustees, I hope that we shall not have to wait for another two hundred years before the British Museum can be discussed again.

Whatever else the Bill has done it has, as the Minister himself recognised, enabled not only the Trustees but the Government to learn of the great concern felt in all parts of the House that the British Museum should fulfil the great traditions expected of it by the public, and to maintain the place it is entitled to hold in the affection and esteem, not only of the people of this country but of scholars and visitors from abroad.

As was pointed out from both sides on Second Reading, it is, unfortunately, not true that all has been well with the British Museum in recent years. The Economic Secretary has himself recognised that, and I think that we should stress on Third Reading that, apart from the other matters to which the Minister referred, perhaps the most important new feature in the new constitution is that there will be a new set of Trustees, smaller in number, and the majority to be appointed by the Prime Minister. We were assured by the Economic Secretary that they will be men of standing, scholarship, eminence, stature and integrity.

Those were the hon. Gentleman's words, but he assented when I suggested that those five qualifications were not enough, and that the Trustees should also be men of independent judgment, able to stir up the Treasury to make the necessary financial contribution to enable them to make good some of the deficiencies of the British Museum in the past few years, and to fulfill the objectives we all have in mind.

The debates in this House have done something, at least, to convince the Government that so far as there have been defects in the administration, the running, staffing, improvement, display and reorganisation of the British Museum in recent years, it has been not so much the fault, if at all, of the Trustees, but rather because of a lack of adequate funds from time to time from various Treasury Ministers.

We are entitled to derive the hope, from the speech which we have heard tonight and from other speeches on the Bill, that the present Ministers realise this and that the House may be assured that in the months ahead the Treasury will be forthcoming to enable the trustees of the British Museum to put in hand without delay this important project of reorganisation which is planned and also to enable the Trustees to have adequate funds to remove the existing staffing deficiences and to extend the possibilities, which undoubtedly exist, for greater and better display.

11.21 p.m.

I rise briefly to support the Third Reading of the Bill, but I hope that it will not be another 200 years before the hon. Member for Bristol, West has the fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.

The Bill will make a living and lively institution out of the British Museum and I welcome it for that reason. Indeed, it is to make the Museum available to the plain man, to men far plainer than the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), however self-effacing he may be.

I do not share the worries of some hon. Members about the separation of the Natural History Museum. There seem to be quite adequate safeguards for more or less dual control, or, at least, the interchange of ideas between the two institutions. When two members of a family grow to adulthood, surely they want to go their own independent ways, even if they still retain connections of one sort or another.

I hope that the work and ideas of the family trustees whose benefactions and services over many years to the British Museum are notable, will not be altogether lost and that, perhaps, in some informal way, these people could be kept together and their connection with the Museum maintained, even if they cannot all be reappointed as trustees.

I am delighted to think that hon. Members opposite, even if they are not satisfied with the Bill as it leaves this House, at least feel that another place still has a function to perform in this modern age. Perhaps, when tomorrow comes, they will not be quite so stringent in their strictures on that other place, which, like the British Museum, can live in a new age.

11.23 p.m.

I wish to develop a little further a point which I touched on in Committee and to which the Economic Secretary has been courteous enough to refer. I thank him for his courtesy. I do not thank him for his remarks, which were unwelcome to my ears, and I only hope that my few remarks tonight may extract an undertaking from the Chief Secretary that the matter will be considered further.

What I should like is that the matter should specifically be referred to the new Trustees when they are appointed for them to consider afresh. The point is this. One of the principal reasons for the Bill is to enable part of what is now housed in the British Museum to be moved elsewhere. There is not enough accommodation in the building to house the Library and the various Departments of Antiquities. They both need to expand, they both need new and better premises. The question is: which should be moved, the Library or the Departments of Antiquities? The provisional decision which has been taken so far is to move the Library, and it is this decision which I wish briefly to question.

I think that it is clear that, whichever is moved, it is unlikely they can all be moved to one new building. That in itself seems to me to be an argument for moving the Departments of Antiquities and not the Library. There are obvious advantages in keeping the Library together in one place if it can be done. There is much greater need for the Library to be complete, cohesive and in one place, than for the Departments of Antiquities.

There is no reason whatever why we should not move them out to galleries spread around London—indeed, they need not all be in London—housing different branches of the antiquities. There is no reason why African art, the Egyptian art, the classical Greco-Roman art should be displayed or housed in the same building at all. There is no need for them to have the same kind of buildings. The kind of building which is required, for example, to house ancient Egyptian statues is obviously not the same kind of building as is required to house the unrivalled collection of coins such as the British Museum possesses. These seem to me at the outset strong arguments for considering moving the Departments of Antiquities rather than the Library.

The other question is this: are we really to make better use of the existing premises? I can quite understand that if the library department—I know that that is not its correct official title, but it is a convenient way of referring to it—is given the choice, "Would you like to stay where you are, or would you like to move your main part to a brand new, modern, specially designed building?" it would naturally favour a modern building. So, of course, would the Departments of Antiquities, but surely the point is this.

The present building's structure, broadly speaking, consists of a square in the centre of which is the world-renowned and historic Reading Room under the central dome, and between that Reading Room and the outer square in which for the most part are housed the galleries—between these two—there is an intricate labyrinth, I understand, of corridors and storage space used for the storage of books. If the Library is moved out the accommodation which is at present being used for the Library will really be useless, I understand, for the purposes of the Departments of Antiquities. They cannot satisfactorily be converted or used for those purposes.

The Departments of Antiquities are not in need of greater storage space. The crying scandal is that so many of our antiquities are housed in storage, and are not on display. What is needed is greater facilities for display. On the contrary, what the Library needs is greater storage space, and greater storage space central and near to the building where the books will be required—the Reading Room. There are also needed additional facilities for specialised reading rooms. Scholars have need of additional reading rooms. If the antiquities were moved from the present building surely this outer square could be developed both for storage of books and, more probably on the first floor, for the construction of specialised reading rooms. In this way it would be possible to keep all the Library together.

If the present proposal goes through, what shall we have? We shall have the main Library across the road, on the south side of Great Russell Street, I understand. We should then have new the Science Library, constructed somewhere on the South Bank. We should then have the storage spaces at various places—somewhere out near Stanmore, I understand, for one collection; another lot being moved to Woolwich Arsenal.

Is this really the best way in which to house this unique and incomparable library collection—scattered in that way? Would it not be better to use the present building for housing the Library? Then we could look forward to an improvement in the Library and also at last to the construction of proper galleries for displaying the antiquities. If the present proposal goes through, I feel most pessimistic about the prospect of hon. Mem- bers seeing in their lifetime proper display facilities for the antiquities of the Museum.

The present galleries were designed, unfortunately, at a time when people had somewhat grandiose ideas about what constituted a suitable place to display objects of art. One knows the difficulties with which museums struggle when they have eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings in which to display their objects. I understand that none of the present galleries can be converted to have, for example, air conditioning installed, and that is a necessary feature for the proper display of many works of art.

If we made the decision the other way round we could have a piecemeal progression with advantage accruing to both sides, for the Departments of Antiquities and for the Library, and steady progress could be made on both fronts. If we continue the present arrangement, it will be highly expensive, we shall get some initial advantage for the Library, but still not a really satisfactory solution for it, and it seems to me that a satisfactory solution for the Departments of Antiquities will be hopelessly delayed.

No doubt there are many other arguments the other way. I have put forward one side of the case. The only argument the other way that we have so far heard this evening is "Well, our plans are so far advanced now that if we were to change the decision it might delay the matter even for some years." Surely the House will agree that on a matter of such importance, if the decision which has been taken is wrong it would be better to delay for a few years in order to get the right decision, because whatever decision is taken now will determine the future of the Museum for 100, if not 200, years, and it is vitally important to get the right decision.

All I ask is that the Government will agree that this is a matter which should be referred to the new Trustees to investigate fairly and dispassionately. If they confirm the view that the right decision has been taken, so be it and I for one will be content. But it would be a great tragedy if we were merely to persist in a decision which may be the wrong one without giving the new Trustees the opportunity to look at it again.

11.34 p.m.

Although the family Trustees are exterminated by the provisions in the Bill, I must honestly say that I think it is a very great improvement on the present arrangements, and of all the many British Museum Acts that we have had since 1753, this Measure is by far the most important since the original Act.

Two things emerge from it which will enormously enhance the reputation and public standing of the Museum. The first is the reformation of the Trustee body. Although I have reservations about that which I have expressed in Committee and on the Floor of the House, I am sure that in the end the whole administration of the Museum will be sharpened and made more effective by being more closely focused half of it on the Bloomsbury portion and the other on the natural history portion.

I am certain that the substitution of a more up-to-date Trustee body will have an immediate effect. After all, well though the Trustees have done in the past, it is not really sensible that a body deemed appropriate for the days of Dr. Johnson should necessarily be quite the right one to tackle the enormous complexities of this business today. This new body has a tremendous chance, if it is wisely chosen, to raise the public esteem of the Museum and make the people feel, as scholars have always felt, that this is a tremendous and priceless national institution unequalled anywhere else in the world.

The second feature of the Bill which will be of enormous value to the public is the wise use of the power to lend. I am sure that, if it is used wisely, the provincial museums and collections which will presumably qualify for the display of certain things from the main collection will benefit enormously by having this rich reservoir of treasure to draw on. As the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) said, so many of these things, through sheer lack of space, cannot be shown, or be adequately shown. Let them go round the provinces so that some of our less well-endowed and humbler institutions far from London can share in the great national glory that has reposed so far solely in Bloomsbury.

Again, the knowledge that this greatest of all museums will be able, in certain instances, to lend its treasures overseas on appropriate occasions will inspire a reciprocal reaction in other collections abroad. One good turn deserves another. We may see as a result the most splendid things in this country which would otherwise never be sent here on the grounds that, as the British Museum did not lend its treasures, other people should not lend their treasures to us. We may see things that our people have never had a chance to see before.

For these two main reasons, I believe that we are doing a good job with the Bill. I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) said about the contribution in the past of the family Trustees. I urge the Economic Secretary to consider the suggestion I put earlier, that in some way these family Trustees may be associated, if they wish, with the continuing affairs of the Museum. I am not saying that they should have a hand in its government, or that a penny of public money should be spent that has not been spent before.

The fact remains, however, that the great glories of the Museum were founded on these collections given to it, and it seems rather hard and churlish that because these gifts were given so long ago—my own family's contribution antedated the original Act by many years—we should say, "We have the stuff, now get out." That attitude is not necessary and, I am sure, is not intended. It should be possible in some way, and at no public expense, to continue to recognise the very great treasures with which we have been endowed as a result of what these families did in the past.

I would like to pay tribute not only to the Economic Secretary on his handling of the Bill, but also to the staff of the Museum, of which I know a great deal. I speak of the Director down to the humblest employee. They are a quite remarkable and devoted body of people of whom we should be very proud. They have not had an easy task. They have been desperately short of money. They have suffered greatly from long unrepaired ravages by enemy action. They have had great difficulties of display and have been undermanned and overcrowded.

They have not always had a fair crack of the whip from the public and the newspapers, who have been very quick to describe them as "stuffy" or out-of-date or unimaginative—all the easy adjectives which come so readily when one does not really know all the facts. But they have "worn" all that and I am quite certain that the effect of the Bill will be a great stimulus to morale.

May I just say, remembering what the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said When we were having a little discussion on whether they would like to be called civil servants or not, and without quarrelling with the hon. Gentleman in any way, that there is an enormous status symbol in calling oneself an officer or a servant of the British Museum? When one asks them what they would rather be called, they say, "Well, we belong to the British Museum and we want to be known as officers of the Museum."

My own experience when abroad, and when I have visited a foreign museum, has been that the fact that I was a Member of this House carried great weight, but when I have said that I was a Trustee of the British Museum that was the moment when the curator came rushing to the door to greet me. So one can see how proud these people are of being associated with this great institution.

Now that we are changing the administration of the Museum, I think that our final word should be one of gratitude for all that these people have done.

11.42 p.m.

Before the House finally parts with the Bill I should like to add a very brief word to this debate and, first, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson) did, to thank hon. Members on both sides for the helpful, co-operative and constructive way in which our discussions have been carried out throughout.

I should like to go further than my hon. Friend and to thank many people outside for the very hard work and the very valuable work which they have contributed to the Bill. I should like to thank the members of the Standing Committee of the Trustees who have given us their advice and counsel and, in particular, not only the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), to whom I have already referred, but his colleagues, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Radcliffe and Lord Hurcomb.

I should like to add my thanks to the staffs and officers of the two museums who have been enormously helpful with advice and guidance. I should like, too, to thank those Trustees whose position is affected or changed by the Bill for their forbearance and kindliness in this matter. You, Mr. Speaker, are of course one of the ex officio Trustees, indeed a Principal Trustee, whose position with that of your colleagues as ex officio Trustees has been affected by the Bill and who have shown great understanding, kindliness and help to us in a matter inevitably, in the circumstances, of some delicacy.

Then there is my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South, who is, as he reminded us, one of the family Trustees. I will confess to the House that when we were considering the drafting of the Bill I felt it went very much against the grain to end the 200-year association of the family Trustees with the Museum. It is a very long and honourable connection beginning with splendid gifts by the six families to the Museum in its very early days. I, for one, felt, as I told my hon. Friend, very considerable regret and reluctance that the hard logic of the thing in deciding a new constitution for the Museum in the second half of the twentieth century forced us to the conclusion that the family Trustees as such should not continue.

I should like to take this opportunity, if I may do so without impertinence, not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of many British Governments over a very long period, of extending gratitude to the family Trustees for the personal service which they have given to the Museum and, through it, to the community, and also, long ago though it is, to thank them for the splendid gifts which were the very base and foundation of what is now one of the greatest national collections in the world.

I would refer, if I may, to the observations of the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot), who, I know, has taken a great interest in the future plans for the development of the Museum. As he said, the plans for the new Library on the new site, to which I referred at greater length on Second Reading, have been long prepared. Much thought and consideration has been given to them, and it is true that to change them at this time would undoubtedly impose very serious delay in coping with the problem of the Library under immense pressure of space. None the less, the hon. Gentleman is right. In a matter of this importance that could not be a decisive consideration if the merits of the matter went plainly otherwise.

I am bound to say that I pay great attention to the fact that those associated with the Museum in recent years, after profound thought and study and consultation with many people outside, have evolved a plan of this kind. I would not like anything that I said tonight to indicate that the necessary processes which must go forward, the acquisition of the land, and so on, were likely in any degree to be checked.

I think that it is a good plan, and I have very little doubt that it will be carried out, but in reply to what the hon. Gentleman said, not only on that issue, but on the wider question of the general layout of the Museum—his suggestion of decentralising the antiquities in some measure—it is the fact that the provisions in the Bill—I think that it is Clause 9—in respect of various repositories gives a wide power, by Treasury order, with the consent of the trustees, to designate future places in which some of the treasures may be held and displayed. We are looking to a long-term future, and I think that that gives a proper flexibility, foreseeing that at any rate some of the hon. Gentleman's ideas may become more attractive and perhaps more inescapable in the years ahead.

As to the Library project, the Government feel that this is the greatest major contribution which we of our generation can make to the British Museum, and I should be deeply disappointed were there to be any check or delay in going forward with it.

That brings me to the remarks of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher), about finance. The capital cost of the new Library building will be about £10 million, and the Natural Science Reference Library on the South Bank will cost over £1 million. The regular grants on the British Museum Vote have risen very sharply in recent years. As recently as 1952–53 the net Vote was £350,000. For the current year it is £1,122,000, and I think that this is an indication of our acceptance of a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman said as to the necessity to provide well and generously for the proper development of the facilities and display arrangements of this great institution. I very much hope that this process will continue.

I think that we are all agreed on the great historic importance of this Measure to the Museum and all that the Museum stands for. Had that not been our view, it would, as the House will recognise, have been impossible to obtain time for it in the programme of a very busy Session. But we took the view, which I think the House accepts, that it is of major importance to give to the British Museum the legal foundations for the expansion of the Library and the use of its new premises, to give it an up-to-date, and, as my hon. Friend said, streamlined constitution, to modernise its lending power and power to make arrangements of one kind and another, and thereby to enable this institution—which I described in the Second Reading debate as perhaps the greatest of our national institutions—to have very considerable support, such as Parliament can give, for the great developments that I am quite certain lie ahead of it.

The Museum has been served for two and a half centuries by Trustees and officers of the greatest devotion, skill and ability. It is so served today, and with the service of those who serve it now and those who will serve it in the future I believe that it can become an even greater part of the cultural life of this nation than it has been in the past. If, in some small measure, this Bill helps it in this task, I do not think that the House will have spent its time in vain.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.