The UK’s export control system provides a safety net to protect our national treasures from being sold abroad, whereby Ministers can delay the issuing of an export licence to allow an opportunity for a UK buyer to acquire it. Between 2008 and 2018, 62 items were saved for the nation in this way. A recent example was the notebooks of Sir Charles Lyell, the renowned Scottish geologist who influenced Charles Darwin, which were acquired by the University of Edinburgh in 2019.
May I declare an interest as chair of the John Clare Trust, a charitable trust, and of course one of my daughters is a poet? May I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that we have discovered in recent weeks a beautiful treasure trove of letters from the Brontës, Jane Austen and Robert Burns? It is unique. If we cannot act now and raise £15 million to keep it in this country, it will be broken up and sold at auction in New York. Will the Minister and the Government help us? Could the National Trust, which has huge reserves, help us to keep it in Britain? Most of the literary houses have had a year of no income and are struggling to help and raise this money. We desperately need this collection kept in our country. Will she help and help soon?
The Government are delighted that a public consortium led by the Friends of the National Libraries has come together to seek to acquire the Honresfield library. We hope that the fundraising campaign is successful and is able to realise its plans to allocate parts of the collection to libraries around the UK, for the benefit of the public. We will, of course, keep a very close eye on this and I know that the Secretary of State is planning to meet the group shortly.