I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
I should like to assure the House, in the first place, that this Amendment represents no factious or capricious opposition. It is not the outcome of any sectional opinion, nor is it the offspring of any partisan prejudice. We who are opposing this Measure are, I hope, neither cranks nor faddists, and we certainly are not partial to any set of people in connection with this Bill, nor to any particular class of ideas. We are a number of Scottish Members who are anxious to perform our duty to our country at this moment in a matter which we consider to be of vital importance. Whatever shape this Bill takes, the real question which lies behind it all is the acquisition of a site upon which to build a National Library for Scotland. That, I should think, is an object magnificent enough and sufficiently inspiring to engage the most conscientious efforts of all of us.
We are eager to see this great work of national construction undertaken and carried to a finish; we are zealous to ensure that it shall be built, as it deserves to be, upon the best available site in Edinburgh, sufficient to stand, for as many centuries as we dare to contemplate, as the wellspring of knowledge in our native country, capable of being indefinitely expanded in order to meet the growth of the population and the needs of the Scottish people. Our quarrel with this Measure is that, as we think, it does not meet those needs. It does not give us that assurance which we should desire that this great National Library, in a country from early times devoted to learning, will have that distinction and importance which it ought to receive at the hands of the generation which is privileged to build it.
I have to direct my attention, in the first place, to the facts of the case, but there are certain things which I should like to mention at once, which seem to reinforce the attitude of those who oppose the passing of this Measure into law. The first and most striking thing is that there is no public opinion in Scotland in favour of this Bill. The people of Edinburgh, of course, are those who are most immediately interested from a geographical point of view, but all Scotland is interested. Taking the people of Edinburgh, the Merchant Company of Edinburgh, which has done more for education, I should think, than almost any other institution in this land, is not in favour of this Bill. The Chamber of Commerce of Edinburgh is not in favour of this Bill. The Architectural Associations of Edinburgh are hostile to this Bill. The Cockburn Association, which makes it its special duty to preserve the beauty of Edinburgh as it already exists, and to enhance it by whatever public buildings may require to be built in the future, is unanimously hostile to this Bill. The Town Council of Edinburgh is not in favour of this Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I shall have some explanation to give later about that matter, but let me read the resolutions passed by the Town Council of Edinburgh, the first on the 26th March, 1931, and the confirming
resolution on the 22nd April, 1931. The first states:
That the Edinburgh Town Council is of opinion that the Sheriff Court House should remain in its present position, and that the National Library should not be built on the site suggested by the National Library Trustees.
That resolution goes directly in the teeth of the provisions of this Bill, and, as I have indicated, it was confirmed by the town council on the 22nd April, 1931. These resolutions have never been rescinded nor in any way qualified. I shall state in a moment how it has happened that the town council of Edinburgh should be promoting this Bill, but let me assure the House that, so far as declared opinion is concerned, the majority of the town council of Edinburgh is hostile to its provisions, and the council only appears as the promoter owing to certain adventitious circumstances which I shall proceed to explain later. The Press of the East of Scotland is opposed to this Bill. The "Scotsman," which is far and away the most authoritative organ of public opinion in the East of Scotland, no later than last Saturday, gave a strong expression to the effect that public interests are being disregarded in the matter of this Order, and that it hopes that the House of Commons will correct the error which has been made. These are certainly extraordinary circumstances considered in relation to a project which, as would have been supposed and expected, would enlist the enthusiasm and zeal of the whole of Scotland, and, in particular, the support of the people in whose midst the building is to be placed.
The history of the question is not in any obscurity, but let me remind the House how we emerged into the circumstances of to-day. In 1923, the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh, which is the only great library in Scotland possessed of a collection of books comparable with those of the great libraries of England, like the Bodleian, was given by the Faculty of Advocates as a gift to the nation. It was an extremely handsome gift, but, like many Scottish gifts, it had a particular quality, in that it relieved the Faculty of Advocates of an expenditure which was gradually becoming overwhelming. The gift having been made, it was necessary to consider, not merely the condition of the existing stock of books, but also how they were to be housed in the future, with the additions which succeeding years would produce; and, accordingly, the question of extending the library or building a new one became very important.
Two things emerged which are quite creditable and quite explainable, but I think they have given a twist to the whole of the proceedings on this matter which has never become entirely straightened out. The first was this: There is a piece of vacant ground in close juxtaposition to the old Library, and it was not an unnatural thing to wish that the new Library, or the extension of the old Library, should be placed there. I am myself a member of the Faculty of Advocates, and have been so for something like 26 years, and I feel very strongly all the circumstances which would make me desire to build the Library in that position. The happiest days of my life were spent in Parliament House, Edinburgh, and, accordingly, everything by which I should be moved in the way of sentiment would induce me to wish that there should be no separation between the old Library and the new, or the extensions that should be made; and I avow with complete sincerity to the House that nothing but an overmastering conviction that the Library could not be efficiently accommodated and operated on that site would make me an opponent of this Measure to-night.
The second thing which I think affected people's minds unduly was the fact that, while the Faculty of Advocates gave this great gift to the nation, they at the same time retained 40,000 volumes which are of particular importance to students of legal history, but which might also be of great concern to anybody dealing with wider matters of historical knowledge connected with Scotland. A desire arose, accordingly, to have these 40,000 volumes as free of access to the reading public as the large collection of other books housed in the Library, and that induced the view that there should be a connection between the place where these 40,000 volumes are kept, namely, in the precincts of Parliament House, and the new building that should be erected.
I think far too much stress has been laid upon this matter. Anyone who has had cause to make any scientific investigations or historical inquiries knows that you may require to have access to many different centres of reading before you can get the material that you need, and I cannot imagine that it would be any serious difficulty for anyone studying topics which required access to these 40,000 volumes to go to the Advocates' Library for the purpose of seeing those volumes. The Advocates have always been, not only willing, but eager to allow the reading public access to their Library, and the opportunities are there, and still would be there, for consultation of these 40,000 volumes; and, wherever else the other collection was kept, there would be no difficulty in the way of anybody going to the separated Library for the purpose of consulting any books in which he was specially interested. But I am sure that particular circumstance has weighed far too much in the argument upon this matter and has guided far too greatly the conduct of the Library trustees who have been charged with the business of providing suitable accommodation for this collection of books.
There is added to that circumstance another. Across this small space of ground that lies behind the existing library there arises a great erection known as the George IV Bridge, and on the top of one edge of that, bridge there is the sheriff court. I cannot exaggerate the convenience that there is in the situation of the court of session and the sheriff court house being near to each other. I have many times descended by the stairs of the Parliament House, emerged by a back door across the intervening space and climbed a dizzy set of steps to find myself in the Sheriff court ready to plead whatever cause I was called upon to plead, and the contiguity of the buildings has been of great benefit. In order to put a new library on the vacant space of ground that I have described, it was necessary to remove the sheriff court house. That has become another determining factor in this controversy, and it has received a weight which again I think is undue and unwarranted. In order to get rid of the sheriff court house, provision has to be made for it somewhere else.
As was stated in evidence by one of the minority of the town council, who favour the project set forth in this Bill, no one would ever wish to move the sheriff court house at all but for the fact that it was wanted by the library trustees as the site of the new building. Treasurer Harvey was asked before the Commission, "Do you agree that there would be no question of removing the sheriff court from its present site unless the National Library trustees had cast covetous eyes on the site?" He answered, "That is apparent to everyone. It is quite true." Accordingly, although it is also true that certain remedial measures are necessary to put the sheriff court house into a state of proper repair, at a cost of £20,000, there is no necessity, from the point of view of administering justice in the sheriff court, to shift it from its present site.
May I remind hon. Members who are not so familiar with Edinburgh as the rest of us what the situation of these various places is. That famous street which has been given the name of the Royal Mile, rising along the ridge from Holyrood up to the castle, is intersected at three-fourths of its length by the avenue which I have described as the George IV Bridge. This ridge rising from Holyrood to the castle descends very steeply on both sides, on the north side to Princes Street and on the south side to Cowgate and the Grass Market. As you come near the place where the George IV Bridge intersects it, three-quarters of the way up, you pass in succession St. Giles's Cathedral, the Market Cross, with the Parliament House buildings behind, and thereafter the Signet Library and the county buildings of Midlothian. These have behind them this steeply dropping area which is at present free from buildings. You turn round a corner and you find on your left this sheriff court house. It is a comparatively modern building built by an architect of considerable repute of the name of Bryce, whose work evidently so impressed the Commissioners who sat on this case that they recommended that the facade of it should be incorporated in any new building of the sheriff court that might be placed on a new site.
The history of this question becomes rather curious at this point. The trustees, anxious to build upon the site that I have described, asked: Where are we going to put the sheriff court if we occupy this site? It was suggested that, the site on Calton Hill which used to be occupied by the gaol had been cleared, and was the place to put it. Accordingly, designs were drawn by the Office of Works for putting a new sheriff court house on the site of Calton gaol. Immediately there arose an uproar in Edinburgh, and one can quite understand it. This was putting the sheriff court house at a long distance from the court of session and creating an impediment in the ordinary case with which it was possible to move from one court to the other. The result was that the theory of putting the sheriff court house on Calton Hill was defeated by public opinion. Where was it to be put? Some other site had to be found near the law courts, and there was found what is described in all the proceedings as the island site, which lies slightly north of the entrance to the George IV Bridge and looks out upon Princes Street, a site which is covered by a considerable amount of buildings—shops on the lower floors and houses in the upper parts.
Then a difficulty arose about the question of costs. So eager, apparently, was the last Government to aid in the matter of getting this site cleared of the sheriff court house and a new site found for that building, that they became most generous in their offers. They agreed, although it would have been the business of the Sheriff Court Commissioners to find at least half the expense, to take practically the whole of the burden of the cost. The island sits is to cost £75,000. The Government are going to provide £50,000 of that sum, £10,000 is to be found by the Sheriff Court Commissioners, who ought to have been providing half the cost, which they would have levied upon Edinburgh and Midlothian, and £15,000 is to be provided by the town, which gets some easier accesses to one of the streets which is near the island site.
The generosity of the Government did not finish there. They also agreed, although half of this again would have had to be borne by the Sheriff Court Commissioners, to provide £100,000 for the building of the new sheriff court. That is to say, the Government were going to provide £150,000 for no other purpose than shifting the sheriff court from a place where it is perfectly adequately provided with accommodation and where it suits everyone, to a place where at present nobody wants it. I am inclined to think, although I am not an expert, that some re-arrangement of the accommodation would do all that is required, and apparently that is the view of the treasurer of Edinburgh, who says that, but for the desire of the Commissioners to obtain this new site for the library, no one would have thought of shifting the sheriff court. Accordingly, £20,000 would have been enough to put the sheriff court into a good state of repair, and an extra £130,000 is to be expended unnecessarily to remove a perfectly good building from one place co another 200 yards away, and in the meantime all the tenants of the houses and shops on the island site are to be dispossessed and a considerable amount of trouble created. It seems to me that something very formidable has to be stated in order to justify manoeuvres of this kind.
When you have done all this—this is really the gravamen of the situation—and when you have shifted the sheriff court, at all this expense to the Government, have you really the kind of site for the new library that you wish? Let us keep well in mind that we are not legislating merely for to-day or tomorrow. A national library is a great institution, with what we call in Scotland a great tract of future time in front of it. To a national library a hundred years is as yesterday, or as a watch in the night, and you must be contriving something that is going to last, as far as you can see, for centuries. Look at many of the buildings in Edinburgh, still beautiful and still adequate to all purposes and a joy to those who reflect on what the great architects of the past have done. For this library you really ought to demand the finest site that it is possible to obtain. In a place like Edinburgh the national library ought to be a great feature of the communal life of the city and a decoration and an embellishment to its already famous beauty.
Let us consider this place where it is proposed to be built. It is a situation that is endeared to me by many associations, but it is not the kind of place that you would select for a great new national building. It slopes away very steeply from the edge of the ridge which forms the High Street of Edinburgh, and it is in a very constricted place. To build a library upon that piece of ground would mean a great many flights. Its approach from the outside would be from the George IV Bridge, which stands high above the ground upon which the library will be built. One of the things that is said about the new project is that there will be available to it a great deal of the storage accommodation which exists in the old library. I put it to the House: Is that the way you would go about designing a great institution like this? Would you attempt to accommodate yourself to a particular system of storage and constrict all your designs in order to be able to work these into your scheme? Would you not, as a matter of course, try rather to fashion something great and big and bold and convenient and efficient?
I have fortified myself—because there is no reason why you should take my opinion about a matter of this kind—by the evidence given by one of the most distinguished librarians in this country, if not in Europe, that of Mr. Stanley Jast. He says of the modern library, that the theories of construction and layout have been revolutionised in the last 30 years, and that a modern library should be built upon an open site, with spare land for extension but no considerable changes of level, and with as few limiting conditions as possible. This is certainly not an open site, and is one of the steepest sites on which you could attempt to accommodate yourself. So far from being free from limitations, consider its size. In the first place, it is banked up against the George IV Bridge which rises like a huge structure out of this slope. It is bounded on the lower side by the Cowgate, which is thronged with tenements. It has upon the upper side the buildings of the County of Midlothian and of the Library of the Writers to the Signet and the Parliament House. Accordingly, it is shut in on all sides instead of having that freedom of expansion which you would provide in any case for a national library.
Mr. Jast goes on to lay down one or two other conditions to which, I hope, the House will forgive me referring. He says that you must, in a modern library, have a good form of arrangement and that you ought to have a centre from which all the main rooms radiate so as to make very easy access for quickness and efficiency in bringing books to people who require them. As far as this property is concerned, it is obvious that it at once fails because one of the sources of our storage is in the old building of the present Advocates' Library, which can only be reached from the new library, when it is built, by a series of indirect passages. Accordingly, you cannot fancy that such a scheme as that conforms to the desideratum which this great librarian lays down. He points out that the trustees' plan shows only one reading room of very moderate size and a few small studies. That seems to indicate that, instead of tile library being a library for the nation, it is to be a library for a comparatively few students. I should have thought that the plan of a national library would be somewhat different from that. He also points out that it is necessary to have scientific ventilation and a steady temperature. How can you do that in a building which is to be connected by passages with storage accommodation in another old building which has certainly no modern contrivances which anybody could discover.
He directs particular attention to the question of fires. You want your library to be safe from fire. It is true that you can make it a fireproof building, but you cannot make it fireproof to the influences of buildings round about. As I have told the House, the old library of the Parliament House has no modern contrivances at all. It is not suited to conditions which arise in modern communities, although it has mercifully been preserved from any fire. But if anything happened there in connection with the new library it would be disastrous. On the site is the George IV Bridge, and under its archway, I believe, there is a certain bedding manufacturing operation going on which does not seem likely to be a very good associate for a library close by. Books are subject to the influence of water used to put out a fire. Nothing can be worse for a library if it should be necessary to pour water upon the library books.
I have, I am afraid, taken too long to tell the House about these various considerations, but we should require to be very certain about this question before we decide to cast our votes in favour of the scheme which is before us. It may be asked, and certainly rightfully asked: Where would you propose to go? What other site do you suggest? I am not sure that I am obliged to answer that question, or, at least, obliged to give a satisfactory answer upon it, because it is obvious that I cannot prove anything about any other sites which I may suggest, and nobody can say, on my ipse dixit, whether they would be good sites or not. But if it is put as a challenge to me that this is the only site which can be found, I think that in those circumstances I shall be entitled to say where, as it appears to me, you could find more suitable sites in Edinburgh. I think, in the first place, of the Calton Hill site which has been cleared of the gaol and which was offered for the purposes of the sheriff court. There is no disadvantage in the library being there. It is a site of 3½ acres, all cleared, and you are in a position to put up a building worthy of Edinburgh and worthy of a national library on that site. In addition, it is Crown property and costs you nothing, which in these days is a matter of considerable moment. As far as making a fine piece of architecture is concerned, you will see at once what it would be upon an open site like that as compared with the one which I have been describing.
There is another site which has been suggested. It may be that it is subject to some of the difficulties of the one which I have been criticising, but at any rate it would give a larger area. I am not going into the details. There is a lot of controversy about it. It is a site lower down the High Street, just opposite the municipal buildings, close by the Market Cross, and it is the site at which the police headquarters are at present located. The police headquarters were condemned some 20 years ago by the town council, which proposed to build new headquarters. This has not been done, and the old headquarters still stand. There has been great talk as to whether it would be a disadvantage to this, that and the other interest. I am not going into this question to-night. At any rate, it is a site which is worth considering.
One of the matters which I wish to bring before the House is that the Commission which passed this Order regarded itself as being precluded from discussing alternative sites. It would not allow any evidence to be laid upon alternative sites. It said: "We are confined to considering whether this sheriff court should be removed from this one place to this other place, and we are not concerned with discussing the question as to the best place to put the national library at all. It is sufficient for us that under the terms of the Order the sheriff court house shall be moved in order to leave a free site for the National Library, and the only question for us is whether that will be a suitable site. We are not allowed to consider any other." That is the view which they took of their duties, and probably they were right. I believe that there was some mention made of the police headquarters' site, but it was not discussed or gone into. I do not ask the House to-night to go into it, because obviously in the absence of appropriate evidence we are not in a position to say whether such a site would be convenient or not. I only mention alternative sites in case anybody should say: "But there is no available alternative." I say that at least there are some sites which deserve consideration, and, in particular, I think, the Calton Hill site deserves very serious consideration.
There is another matter which, again, is of intense importance. Sir Alexander Grant has made a gift of £100,000 for the building of this library upon the particular site sanctioned by this Order. I have no doubt that you will be told to-night by the Solicitor-General that he is authorised to say that Sir Alexander Grant will not make his gift for any other site. Of course, it becomes a, very serious matter when we are considering expense. At the same time I do not think that it should weigh too much. I do not think that the House of Commons should allow itself to be committed to an inadequate site for a great national institution simply because of this gift of £100,000. There is another thing which presses itself upon me. I have no doubt that Sir Alexander Grant when he gives this authority to the Solicitor-General means exactly what he says and intends to carry it out, but I find it a little difficult to believe that he would persist in such an attitude from all that we know of him. He has been one of the most generous benefactors in Scotland in all public matters. I am sure that the gift of £100,000 is made because of a desire to have an adequate national library. If the House of Commons should take the view that it would be better to put it somewhere else, he is certainly entitled, of course, to withdraw the £100,000, especially since he has given us due notice of it; but at the same time I hope that it is a view which would not be persisted in to the end. I hope that his benefactions will be continued where-ever the House of Commons may think that it will be appropriate to establish a site
I have dealt with the utilitarian side of this question, but there is another side. There are some of us
Who gang nae mair where aince we gaed
By Brunston Fairmileheid or Braid And far frae Kirk and Tron"—
but nevertheless have a supreme anxiety in regard to any building which we erect in our time, that it should be worthy of the city which is endeared to us as the romantic centre of the history of our country and whose beauty has cast for ever a spell of enchantment around our hearts. It is because we believe that a great opportunity is being sacrificed that we are here opposing this Measure. It is because we believe that the project embraced in the Bill is a makeshift and a stopgap, that it does not meet either the primary purpose of a national library nor yet is sufficient, in the form and situation in which it is to be placed, to express the spirit of a people who would wish to create a worthy temple to the learning which has done so much for them, that we are now taking part in an opposition which it would have been very much more congenial for us to avoid.
The only regret which I have in rising to ask the House to support this Pill is that I should so unexpectedly find myself opposed to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne). My right hon. Friend will believe me when I say that I, no less than he, have the interests and honour not only of Scotland but of the Capital of Scotland at heart on this question of the National Library. The Trustees of the National Library, when they were appointed in 1925, were appointed under an Act of Parliament then recently passed, which contemplated that one of their very first and most essential tasks would be to select a site for the new National Library, then first created. I had the honour of being one of the original trustees appointed under that Act, and I am still one of that trust body. It was further my fortune to be the convener of the very committee which had to consider, and did consider with great anxiety and care, the question which is now under discussion in the House.
The National Library Trustees are a large body, and they appointed a committee to deal with this matter. It is only right that the House should know what was the personnel of that committee, and to judge whether they were qualified to deal with the question. The principal member of the committee was the chairman of the trustees, Sir Herbert Maxwell, a man universally honoured in Scotland, the doyen of Scottish men of Letters and, I should have thought, beyond all challenge, qualified to consider a matter in which Letters, the amenity of Edinburgh and the honour of Scotland were concerned. Another member of the committee was Sir Hew Dalrymple, who has long been associated with the National Gallery of Scotland, and whose capacity for considering such matters as the amenity of the Capital and the suitability of any site for the National Library could hardly be exceeded. Then there was Dr. Resit, Principal of Glasgow University, who was a Historiographer-Royal of Scotland, Professor of Scottish History and Literature of Glasgow University, and now its Principal, himself a past President of the Librarians' Association of Great Britain, and a great librarian, formerly in the University of Oxford. There was Mr. Cunningham, the representative of Glasgow University, the librarian of that University, and a man of great experience in all questions connected with the Library. There was Professor Grierson, the representative of Edinburgh University, with great experience of libraries and repositories of research, such as this Library is, in every part of the world. There was Professor Baxter, an eminent ecclesiastical historian, of St. Andrews University, Dr. James Maclehose and Lord President Clyde.
I need hardly say that these men addressed themselves to their task, the greatness of which they appreciated and recognised, with the conscientious endeavour that when they had performed their task Scotland would be possessed of a National Library as fit as is the British Museum, or the National Library of France, or the Welsh National Library to play as great a role in the culture of Scotland as have any of these other libraries in their own countries. They took one and a-half years of deliberation before they arrived at a conclusion. They had before them the most ample material. They had the survey which had been made by the Director of Public Works and by the principal architect of the Office of Works in Scotland, of the whole of that part of the quadri-lateral which the right hon. and learned Member has described. It consists of a site in Central Edinburgh bounded on the north by the High Street, on the south by Chambers Street, on the east by the bridges and on the west by the George IV. Bridge. They had plans which had been made by Sir Frank Baines, the Director of the Office of Works, and also plans made by Sir Patrick Geddes and Mr. Mears, both eminent town planners of great experience, who had designed a site for the National Library on the very site which the National Library trustees ultimately selected. They had also reports from the Office of Works, with their own advisers.
They were advised throughout by the leading librarians of this country, and particularly I wish to pay tribute to the very great help given to the National Library Trustees by Sir Arthur Cowley, then of the Bodleian Library, and the librarians of the National Library of Wales and the British Museum. They paid visits to Aberystwyth, where is situated the most modern of the great National Libraries and repositories of research in the world. They had the most expert advice available, and, of course, in their own officials they had highly distinguished and experienced librarians. Moreover, among the trustees there were, as I have said, men like Dr. Rait and Mr. Cunningham, who were well acquainted with the problems that faced us, and which had been solved elsewhere. After one and a-half years deliberation the Trustees reached the conclusion that a building on the site of present sheriff court was the best possible solution of the library problem, and in the summer of 1927 they reported to His Majesty's Government, when my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Agriculture was Secretary of State for Scotland.
They were directed by His Majesty's Government that the case must be considered by the Royal Commission upon Museums and Galleries which was then sitting. The Royal Commission sent a Scottish committee of the Royal Commission to Edinburgh, which sat in Edinburgh for several days. It took evidence and examined not only the present buildings of the library, but the sheriff court house and the surrounding property. It had before it a report made by Sir Frank Baines of the surrounding property and the possible sites in the neighbourhood. After it had considered all the evidence the Royal Commission reported unanimously that the scheme which recommended itself to the governing body, that is the scheme now before the House, should be put in hand at the earliest possible moment. They added:
The scheme would provide the National Library of Scotland with a building both dignified in appearance and effective in its capacity and amenities from the standpoint of the public.
Accordingly, as early as 1928 we had two disinterested and independent inquiries both reaching the conclusion that this was a suitable and effective site for the National Library, providing any architect entrusted with the preparation of the designs with an opportunity for creating a great public building. With that report before them the Government of that date authorised the acceptance by the National Library Trustees of the very magnificent gift by Sir Alexander Grant of £100,000 to provide for a, building upon that site. That offer was first made in November, 1927, when Sir Alexander Grant, who was himself a nominated Member of the National Library Trustees, had been informed of the decision taken by the National Library Trustees, had seen the trial plans and was fully in-informed of the conditions under which the building would be carried out. In July of that year the decision of the National Library Trustees, the favourable decision of the Government of that day and the report of the Royal Commission were published, and were received with unanimous applause by the entire Press of Scotland. There was no dissentient voice; and to this day I claim that the Press of Scotland as a whole is favourable to the scheme. It is true that the
"Scotsman" has gone back on its original opinion. I do not deny that, but other papers like the "Glasgow Herald," which is familiar to the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead have consistently maintained that this is the best of all the practicable solutions and should be put in hand without further delay. In any case the "Edinburgh Evening News," which I suppose reaches almost every home in Edinburgh, has strongly supported it, and within the last week has appeared with two articles strongly urging that there should be no further delay in this essential embellishment of the City of Edinburgh.
The right hon. and learned Member speaks of public opinion. Let it be remembered that the trustees who reached this decision are the representatives of other bodies. There are representatives of the four universities of Scotland, representatives of the Convention of Royal Burghs, and representatives of the Association of County Councils. With one exception every one of these representatives has faced an election since the decision was reached, and every one has been re-elected as a trustee by his constituent body. Where are you to look, on a matter of this kind, for public opinion which is more authoritative and more deserving of attention than to representatives of the four universities, the Convention of Royal Burghs and the Association of County Councils? That is not all. The trustees are unanimous on this subject. They reached their conclusions unanimously, and they are unanimous to-day. It is true that for a brief period before the last inquiry was held the present Lord Provost of Edinburgh, not his predecessor, was in favour of another solution, but he is now anxious that this Bill should be passed and that the work should be taken in hand and pushed through to a conclusion as early as possible. Therefore, this Bill is presented with the unanimous consent of all the trustees.
It was necessary after that conclusion had been reached that ground should be acquired in order to provide a site for a new sheriff court; and that is the genesis of this Bill. A Bill was framed in the year 1930, and the late Government insisted that one of the conditions should be that the National Library should be built on the site of the present sheriff court when that site was vacated. The right hon. and learned Member for Hill head says that the town council of Edinburgh are not in favour of their own Bill. I do not know how that is to be reconciled with the fact that twice they unanimously passed resolutions in favour of the promotion of this scheme before the Bill came before a Committee of Parliament. And since the Bill came before a Committee of this House, and was unanimously approved by that Committee, they have appointed a committee, the members of which I have seen to-day, unanimously authorising them to do their utmost to secure the passage of the Bill through Parliament. I say that this Bill comes before this House unanimously supported by a body of men whose competence cannot be denied, namely, the National Library Trustees, unanimously supported by the town council of the city of Edinburgh, approved by a Royal Commission and by two successive Governments in 1928 and 1931, and I should doubt whether any other private Bill has ever come before this House with such credentials.
As to the procedure before the Committee of Parliament which approved the Bill during last summer, the proceedings lasted five days. We are here discussing it to-night for two hours. Surely they were competent to form an opinion. They had a far better opportunity of forming an opinion, after considering the whole of the evidence, than any hon. Member can have now. They examined the building, just as the Royal Commission had done, and the site of the National Library and the proposed site of the sheriff court, and they speedliy reached their conclusion. It is suggested that we have not behind us the expert opinion of librarians. May I remind the House of some of those whose opinions we took? We were in close touch with a similar question connected with the Bodleian Library, and those concerned with that library hold the same opinions as we do, and it will be remembered that their report was framed after investigating library conditions in every civilised country in the world. They reached the same conclusion as we did, that you should not attempt the almost impossible task of transferring a library containing 800,000 volumes to a new site, sterilising the library for an unknown period during the process of transfer, and
that by far the best method of dealing with the problem was the method of expansion on the existing site. After the evidence was heard and the decision taken, the official organ of the Library Associations of Great Britain, in August, 1931, published its considered view upon the matter, and this is what it said. I invite the attention of those who say that library opinion is against the National Library Trustees to this publication. It says:
It took the Commission, we believe, exactly a quarter of an hour to decide the merits of the case. A body of national librarians or trustees of national libraries would have taken less time. It is morally certain that if the controversy had only come before any body of experienced and judicial men that an end would be made to the elaborate tissue of misrepresentations to which the trustees have been subjected for the past year. As it was, let us repeat that the sheriff court site is a thoroughly good site for which the trustees had not the smallest need to apologise.
I, at any rate, am not here to apologise for my co-trustees for the decision they have taken. It is said that we are going to sacrifice the sheriff court needlessly. What is the position of the sheriff court in Edinburgh? In the year 1912 the then Sheriff of the Lothians and Peebles reported that the sheriff court was out of date and that it was necessary two new court rooms should be added. His successor in 1922 reported to the same effect. The present holder of that distinguished office in a sworn testimony before the Royal Commission—and this is the sworn testimony of the man who knows—last year said that the project of spending £20,000 in order to bring the sheriff court up to date was money thrown away; there was not within the four walls of that building sufficient accommodation to meet present day requirements.
In that he was fully borne out by the first report of Sir Frank Baines in 1924, who said that the expenditure of £20,000 would not suffice to bring the sheriff court up to the needs of the next decade.
He was supported by the architect to the Office of Works in Edinburgh, who said that no expenditure of money whatever would provide in the sheriff court building the necessary accommodation which was now required. The sheriff court building is a building which in any event the country must soon be forced to replace, or it must be content to have the administration carried on in a building which the sheriff of the Lothians and Peebles has stated to be utterly unsuitable and undignified as a place in which justice can be carried out.
Now for a word about finance. What is the finance of this scheme? It is very simple. It is fair to take the sum of £150,000 as the cost of reinstating the sheriff court, and it is fair to add that to the cost of building this extension of the National Library, which is £177,000. Accordingly the total expenditure upon the whole scheme is £327,000. But of that only £227,000 is public money. The rest of it is to be found out of a very generous gift by Sir Alexander Grant. As has been said, that £100,000 is available for that site and for no other site. The result of the expenditure of that £227,000 of public money would he this: You would have a National Library valid for the next 50 years to begin with, accommodating all the readers that will go there and all the books -which will be stored there in the next 50 years, and you will also have a sherif court worthy of the Lothians and Peebles, worthy of the administration of justice within its walls, and satisfactory from the point of view of accommodation and decency, as the present sheriff court is not, and you will have a sheriff court in the closest proximity to the court of session.
What of the future? We are going to supply with this £227,000 that which, as I have said, will be valid and useful for the next 50 years. What after that? It is essential that the House should realise that this is only the first step of a building scheme for the National Library which the Trustees have considered upon trial plans. The second stage will provide for another 30 years, and the third stage for another 20 years. But we do not consider it necessary, nor would it be wise, to spend to-day the whole of the money for what will not be required for another 50 years. We shall do it by stages. There you have 100 years provided for, and when that 100 years is provided for there is still vacant Crown property adjacent for another 30 years at least. We are provided, therefore, without having to buy a single piece of ground in the neighbourhood of the National Library, for 130 years to come. Probably that is not enough for anyone to look forward to in a changing world. But the National Library Trustees have not been content with that. We know that we can acquire property immediately to the east of it, and when we have acquired that, as we may 100 or 130 years hence, there is at least another 100 or 200 years ahead of that, and I believe that this House will not expect the National Library Trustees to look further into the future than that. No one can say that we have been shortsighted.
Have we made adequate accommodation for the readers who will come? Have we provided accommodation only for a mere handful of students? What is the position to-day? At present there are 8,000 readers' attendances per year at the National Library. We are going to provide for the next 50 years accommodation on a scale four times as great; we shall provide accommodation for at least 35,000 readers' attendances in a year. I have a very great admiration for the hand of anyone who describes that as a mere handful of students. I think that that is ample accommodation. Then when we proceed to the next stage, we shall still be able to provide further readers' accommodation. The Royal Commission was right when it said that the National Library Trustees had looked far enough into the future, that they had made adequate provision, and that they had given the architect the opportunity of designing a great public building well worthy of containing that magnificent collection of books and manuscripts formed by the Faculty of Advocates. If I were not, for other reasons, proud to belong to the profession I should be most proud to be one of those advocates for having performed that great service to my country of collecting one of the greatest libraries that the world knows.
My right hon. Friend mentioned those books which were retained by the Faculty. I am not surprised. The whole collection formed by the Faculty amounted to 800,000 volumes, on which they had spent many hundreds of thousands of pounds. They retain the tools of their trade, namely, the law library. But no one must suppose that the law library of the Faculty consists of modern text books or modern law reports. It consists of 45,000 volumes, many of them unique, great numbers of them rare, and these volumes are the original sources of the history of Scotland; they are the original sources for the social and economic and political history of our country. No one has yet fully explored them. There are great collections of manuscripts. Under the present regime every one of those books is incorporated in the catalogue of the National Library of Scotland. Under the gift made by the Faculty they made it a condition that the books which they retained would be available for the general student who went to the National Library, provided they were not in actual use, and at this moment, if you go to the National Library and go to the catalogue which is now being formed, and which incidentally will be rendered useless if this Bill fails, you will pull out a drawer and find the books which are the property of the nation and those which are the property of the Faculty catalogued together. You will get the one as quickly as the other. How is that to be done if you separate these two libraries?
The right hon. Gentleman says, "But the Faculty will continue to do as they have done before." One of the great difficulties of the Faculty was the expense to which they were put in order to provide reading rooms, attendants and catalogues for those who came to the premises to study the National Library hooks. One of our difficulties is the heavy charge to which students are put in order to join the Faculty and provide for the library. Are you going to increase those charges and make it impossible for a young man without means to join that illustrious profession? How are these books to be made available if you separate the two collections and place them under different roofs? It becomes impracticable. Not only that, but there is housed under that same roof to-day that great collection formed by the writers to the signet, the Signet Library, and also that great collection formed by the Society of Solicitors of the Supreme Court. By the courtesy of these two bodies books which would not ordinarily be available in either the National Library or the Faculty Library are made available to those who wish to study them.
Considerations of that kind, among others, have influenced the National Library Trustees and after examining with minute care every objection which has been advanced to it, they remain convinced that the scheme which they have put forward is the best possible scheme. My right hon. Friend says that it is not incumbent upon him to suggest an alternative scheme. I notice that he passed over that aspect of the matter somewhat hastily. He talked of Calton Hill and the police courts, but the former lies altogether outside the quarter where libraries are to be found in Edinburgh and the Architectural Association of Edinburgh who are opponents of the scheme have from first to last repudiated the notion of a library of this sort upon Calton Hill. Moreover, the people of Edinburgh hope yet to see the Calton Hill site utilised for Government buildings which at present are scattered inconveniently in different parts of Edinburgh. As to the other suggested scheme, what possible advantage is there in carrying 800,000 volumes from one end of the Law Courts to the other? The cost would be prodigious if you attempted to build a library on the east side of the Law Courts.
This at all events is a fair conclusion to be drawn—that the opposition to the scheme of the trustees is the opposition of a comparatively few people who are more divided among themselves than they would like to admit, and are far more hostile to one another than they are to the National Library Trustees. The architects agree with the trustees that the site must be somewhere in the centre of Edinburgh. Their principal witness repudiated the very site chosen by the Architectural Association. If this Bill fails we shall be in chaos. It is not a question between this site and some other site which is recommended by a responsible body of enlightened public opinion. It is a question between this site and a wholly indefinite site about which the opponents of the Bill would at once begin to dispute among themselves if the Bill failed to pass. I recommend the Bill to the House without qualification and without shrinking from the responsibility which I incur as a member of the National Library Trustees. I do so without any qualms of conscience and I appeal even now to those who have opposed the Bill to withdraw their opposition. This controversy has long become stale and has ceased to interest even the most curious readers of newspapers. I appeal to the opponents of the Bill to allow it at least to die, and to unite with us in going forward to the fulfilment of a great national project in the completion of the National Library of Scotland.
The House has been interested and delighted to hear two great speeches from two of our leading Scottish advocates. The House will now, I am afraid, have to listen for a few minutes to a very ordinary Member of Parliament who has not the advantages of these two hon. and learned Gentlemen, but who is trying to do his duty, as Mr. Speaker sometimes says in this House, in gathering the voices on this question. I say without hesitation, as the Solicitor-General for Scotland has said, that this controversy has ceased to interest the people of Scotland. Why has it ceased to interest them? The Solicitor-General who speaks with great charm has given us a list of the great men who are in favour of the trustee's plan, but, as an ordinary individual who knows Edinburgh very well, it strikes me as extraordinary that all these great and brainy people should have failed utterly to convince the people of Edinburgh that theirs is the right scheme. Outside the circle indicated by the Solicitor-General in his speech just now you cannot get a business man or ordinary citizen who is whole-heartedly in favour of the trustees' scheme.
Let me substantiate that statement. Reference has been made to the Merchant Company which in Edinburgh is little inferior to the Town Council. Indeed some of them think they are on a level with that body. The Master of the company is a very well-known gentleman, Mr. Gilbert Archer, who might be expected to know something about public opinion in Edinburgh. Mr. Archer when he gave evidence on this question said he represented the Merchant Company which had a membership of 600 of the leading merchants, bankers and traders of Edinburgh. The company, he said, had not confined itself to business matters, but had certain educational duties and had concerned itself with questions affecting the amenities of the city. Then a question was put to him which I may summarise as follows: "Your position is that you are not here as an architectural or a library expert, but that your company feel that, if this proposal were rushed through an irreparable blunder would be made which future generations might regret." He said without hesitation, "Yes" in answer to that question.
There was also examined before that special commission the chairman of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, a gentleman well known to us, Mr. J. R. Little. [Interruption.] He is not known as far away as Glamorganshire, perhaps, but in the city of Edinburgh he is, and he says:
The Chamber has a membership of 825, comprised of the leading business men in the city, with representatives of banking, accountancy, and finance.
Then the question is put to him:
Are you in a position to say that the members of your Chamber object to the demolition of the sheriff court building as being unnecessary and extravagant?
That is so.
And one which in the present state of the country would not be justified, is it not?
That is so.
There you are. What are ordinary Members of Parliament to do? All these great people, brought from all parts of the country, say, "Go on with it; it is all right," but the citizens of Edinburgh, according to the Solicitor-General for Scotland, have lost all interest in the question. I understood him to say that. Am I right in interpreting him as saying that?
I am sorry that I aroused the ire of an old friend. I would call attention to this remarkable admission by the chief advocate of the Bill, that the citizens of Edinburgh have lost all interest in the matter. Why have they? Because the whole question has been muddled. The sheriff court is one of the most substantial buildings in the city of Edinburgh, the pride of the citizens of Edinburgh, and a landmark in our architecture. I have been told over
and over again, in these very words, "It is a wicked thing to pull it down." There is a block of buildings opposite the Bank of Scotland known as the island site, a block of buildings in an excellent state of repair, which will last another 100 years, and everybody in Edinburgh says, "Why pull that down? It is a wicked thing to pull it down." Then below the Mercat Cross, between St. Giles and the Tron Church, there is a block of buildings which was erected about 100 years ago, after a great fire, and those buildings are now slums, an eyesore to anybody who loves Edinburgh. Walk up the High Street. There is nothing architectural or nice about it, but it is just degenerating into slums, and that side of the street is the same side as the Advocates' Library. The citizens of Edinburgh say, "Why pull down the sheriff court and this block of buildings, which may last another 100 years, and leave this same property, on which as an alternative suggestion this library can be built and the High Street beautified?" The whole thing has been so, unutterably muddled from beginning to end by a definite lead not being given and by the action of the town council. Let me just quote this:
At a meeting of the town council held on the 26th March, 1931, a motion condemning the proposed demolition of the sheriff court was brought forward, and this motion was passed by 43 votes to 17.
Something has happened since then, and that is the great generosity of Sir Alexander Grant, which all Scotland applauds, but all Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular, laments that we cannot accept his generosity with open arms and say, "Go ahead; this is exactly what we want. We would like to accept your most generous gift, which is not the first, but we cannot do it." The Town Council of Edinburgh themselves, not so long ago, by 43 votes to 17 said, "Do not do away with the Sheriff Court." There have been all sorts of crosscurrents, and we have got ourselves into this hole, and the citizens of Edinburgh, according to the Solicitor-General for Scotland, have lost all interest in the question. That is how it stands. A great many people tell me, "Well, well, I suppose it will be passed. I suppose it will go through"; and then, in 40 years' time, they will say, "What fools they were in your generation." That is the position, so we think we must get this question considered de novo. Then perhaps we shall have another eloquent speech from the Solicitor-General for Scotland, addressing, not the House of Commons, but the citizens of Edinburgh, and bringing forward a great plan, and the citizens will be only too delighted to follow his lead, but for the moment we say, "Hold your hands; we do not think it is the right thing to do."
We have just listened to a fine fighting speech by the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir S. Chapman), but I do not think he has really made any serious attack on the formidable and convincing arguments submitted by the Solicitor-General for Scotland. We must all be agreed that we want to have the finest library for Scotland that we can get, but we must face realities. If we had unlimited money and a clear site available, we could put up a library that would be the finest possible. But if there was any suggestion to spend, say, £1,000,000 on a national library for Scotland at this stage, I, for one, would' strongly oppose it, because, although a national library is of importance, in this very constituency, which I have the honour to represent, you have these dreadful housing conditions to-day. Therefore, I think this problem must be regarded in a reasonable way, in the light of circumstances and of the necessity for economy, and remembering that there is need for the expenditure of money upon this other pressing question of housing.
To come back to the merits of the Bill, may I say a word upon the existing sheriff court? The right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) said that it was a perfectly good building, but I wonder how many years it is since he visited the sheriff court in a professional capacity. I doubt very much if he has done so since before the War, and I can say, from personal experience, that the sheriff court is completely inadequate for the purposes it should serve. The Solicitor-General for Scotland has made that abundantly clear. It has been objected that the existing court might be put into a proper state of repair by the expenditure of some £20,000, but when that idea is examined it will appear to be almost ridiculous, because there is a need for two more court rooms in the sheriff court, and while they were being provided the ordinary work would be brought to a standstill. Therefore, the only possible way of solving this problem of the sheriff court, which is a minor question compared with the National Library, but still is an important question, is to pick another site.
In the official scheme the island site is available, and that will serve all the purposes for a proper and suitable sheriff court and will satisfy the one condition which was stressed by the right hon. Member for Hillhead, that it will be adjacent to the Court of Sessions. A point which must be carefully borne in mind and which I impress on the House, is that the question of the best site fur the National Library should be solved n the first place by the trustees. The Act of 1925, which constituted the trustees of the National Library, placed the duty and responsibility for looking after the library and providing all the necessities of the library upon the trustees. It is for the objectors to make out the case against the trustees that they have failed in their duty. It is clear from the evidence referred to by the Solicitor-General that this attack upon the trustees has completely failed. The decision of the trustees has been justified in particular by the Royal Commission on Museums and by a Parliamentary Committee last year; they unanimously agreed that the decision of the trustees was a right and proper decision. In these circumstances, the House should be very careful about interfering with it.
May I mention the points that appeal to me as being strongly in favour of the Bill? If this scheme goes through and there is an extension to the existing library, it will save the existing storage which holds 800,000 volumes, whereas, if they go elsewhere and find another site, they will have to build accommodation not only for the future, but for all these 800,000 volumes. That would become a much more expensive scheme even if no consideration were given to the £100,000 from Sir Alexander Grant. Another point of considerable importance is that the scheme would retain the link between the National Library and the Faculty Library. That point has already been dealt with by the Solicitor-General.
There is another point which should thoroughly convince the House on the financial issue. I do not propose to go into the question of the figures for or against, but when proper weight is given to the £100,000 given by Sir Alexander Grant, it is obvious that the official scheme is one which will be the most economical and worthy of the most serious consideration. The last point I wish to mention is the time factor. If the Bill is not read a Second time, the question will go back to the trustees, and there will be further delay. We have had far too much delay already. It will mean another inquiry and another Provisional Order, and nothing further will be done in the meantime to provide the much needed extension to the Library to house the books that are coming in every day. On the whole matter, I urge the House to give the Bill a Second Reading and to allow this most important scheme to proceed without delay.
I count myself very fortunate in being able to make my maiden speech to-night on a subject which is of such great importance, not merely to the citizens of Edinburgh, but to the whole of Scotland, although I fear that all Scotland has not been sufficiently awakened to the true meaning of what this Provisional Order implies. I hope that whatever this effort of mine may lack in eloquence may be atoned for in sincerity and convincingness. I would like to begin by directing the attention of the House to the position which Edinburgh holds among the capitals of the world. I do not suppose that any Member of the House will contradict me when I say that Edinburgh is universally acknowledged as one of the most beautiful cities, riot only in Europe but in the whole world. One commonly hears Edinburgh and Munich bracketed as the two most beautiful cities of Europe. I have been to Munich, and undoubtedly it is a very beautiful and magnificent city, but when compared with Edinburgh, it falls lamentably far behind.
When this point is appreciated, I do not think that it is too much to say that anything which will embellish or impair the beauties of Edinburgh needs to be very carefully considered. Edinburgh consists in essence of two portions, the old town and the new town. The new town was built for the most part at the end of the 18th century, at a time when motor cars and even railway trains were undreamed of. In spite of that, so great was the forethought of those then responsible for the laying out of the new city, that the streets laid down then are adequate for the volume of traffic to-day, a volume which they could not possibly have foreseen. They did not look a few years ahead; they looked many centuries ahead, and I cannot help saying that I am amazed at the complacency with which the learned Solicitor-General said that it is quite unnecessary to look more than 100 years ahead in Scottish history. We have had a long and possibly chequered history in Scotland. In that history, 100 years is not a very long time, and, if our history lasts, as I hope it will, far into the future, and to use a phrase which the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) so aptly employed, goes far in the tract of future time, surely we cannot for a moment imagine that it is sufficient to think only 100 years ahead.
At the present time we hear a, great deal about town and country planning. We hear those of our ancestors who lived from 50 to 100 years ago abused for not thinking more of the future; and yet this Provisional Order proposes that we should not merely imitate the faults they have shown in the past but show ourselves less far-sighted than those who lived 150 years ago, to whose extraordinary depth of judgment we owe our modern city of Edinburgh. Those of us who are opposing this Order are not doing so in any narrow, obscurantist spirit. We do not definitely say that the present suggested site must be abandoned for good and all, but we do claim that nowhere near sufficient attention has been paid to possible alternative sites. We claim that the correct procedure would be to refer this matter back and to get a commission appointed with the widest possible terms of reference. No such commission has ever considered the subject, other inquiries having been sadly hampered by the terms of reference. When such a commission has reported we should know definitely what is the best site and how best to make use of it.
The Solicitor-General said it would be quite sufficient if the new building lasted, for its immediate purpose, for 50 years. There might be a little addition which might last for another 30 years, on top of that a third addition lasting for 20 years, and a fourth for another 30 years; but what sort of building is our National Library going to be, and what credit is it going to reflect on Edinburgh and on the Scottish people, when some four or five architects have all added their ideas to the original building? I cannot imagine that Edinburgh would be in any way improved by such a building, which is bound to show the handicraft of its several creators. If such a view had been taken in the past, it is quite certain that those magnificent buildings of which we are so justly proud to-day could never have taken the form they have, and would not have been allowed to survive up to the present time. If in the past we had adopted this easy policy of only thinking ahead for a couple of generations, should we to-day have seen a single one of the buildings which are our pride throughout Scotland, throughout Britain and, indeed, throughout Europe? The answer must be emphatically "No." As regards alternative sites, we have heard Calton Hill brushed aside very lightly. I should want to hear a great deal more evidence before I felt convinced that Calton Hill was impracticable. I am not greatly taken with the alternative police court site, it is true, even if it has advantages which the Sheriff Court site lacks and fewer disadvantages.
We have heard very little about the financial side. The hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Guy) spoke somewhat wildly about £1,000,000. I do not think any scheme ever suggested was supposed to cost £1,000,000, or the half of it, but surely when we are dealing with a matter as important as this, even though we grant the need for the most urgent economy, it would be better to spend a little more money and get something really satisfactory than to spend a little less and get something which might be an eyesore rather than a credit. I listened very carefully to the eloquent speech of the Solicitor-General, and I have read with great care the effusions that have reached all Members, at least all Scottish Members, from both sides, and I have listened with equal care to the speeches made by the right hon. Member for Hillhead and the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir S. Chapman), and the conviction which has been gradually forming in my mind, that this Provisional Order is a mistake, has been strengthened and magnified many times over.
It has been the old-established practice in the system of our Government that when a casting vote has to be exercised by a chairman it should be used in maintaining the status quo. The casting votes to-night are in the hands of those Members who do not represent Scottish constituencies, and who, with few exceptions, are by no means well versed in the matter before us. I would most earnestly appeal to them to carry out the traditional practice, and use their casting votes to maintain the status quo until this matter can be really properly threshed out by a Commission whose mandate will be in the widest possible terms, because I think it would be little short of disastrous if we should now erect in Edinburgh a building which, so far from being an added adornment to Edinburgh, might well be a discredit, and which, so far from enhancing the opinion which we hope posterity will have of our present generation, will make posterity think that in the last century we have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. I most emphatically support the rejection of this Provisional Order.
I have one regret and one only after listening to the speech of the Noble Lord, and that is that such fluency and such cogency of arguments were not enlisted in support of this Measure. I am sure the House will be with me in congratulating the Noble Lord on what he has said, and in expressing the hope that he may soon be heard again within these walls. The opposition to the Second Reading of this Bill has been led by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne). His views carry great weight in this House, and justly so, but while that is true as regards political, economic and financial questions I venture to remind the House that on this occasion we are upon different ground, and to suggesting that on a question like this his views are no more weighty than are those of us who have remained in closer touch with Scotland and with the capital of Scotland; for, thorough Scot though he is, and worthy representative of a Scottish constituency, he has none the less become something of what in football circles is called with, just a trace of disparagement in the popular press of Scotland, an "Anglo-Scot." That generally means someone who, having been born and bred in the north to plain living and high thinking, has made, and acted upon, the discovery that in the softer and wealthier south a richer living may sometimes be obtained with less mental exertion. I am sorry that he is not here, but the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) is an excellent example. I suggest that upon this question some of us are at least as closely in touch, or more closely in touch, with the actual facts as they exist in Scotland than the right hon. Gentleman, and that his views are necessarily, through the partial severance of his connection with Scotland gained to a large extent from newspapers and other publications.
I do not understand all the references which have been made, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh (Sir S. Chapman), to public opinion, the views of the citizens of Edinburgh, and so on. I think it was in Bagehot's "English Constitution" that I first learned that it is a mistake to think that Debates in this House are a waste of time, because they do not affect votes, seeing that all the while they are educating public opinion, and no doubt hon. Members have to be careful to remember their constituents when they are expressing views in this House. I do not care what views I express to-night, for my constituents and the public of Scotland are not the least interested in this question.
Ninety-nine per cent. of them have never heard of the National Library, and 999 out of every 1,000 have never been, will never go, or will ever want to go near it. It is sheer nonsense to say there is strong public feeling in opposition to this Bill. It may be said that informed opinion is against the proposal. It is a strange thing that informed opinion took two years to inform itself about the matter at all or to raise the first cheep of opposition. After all, what is the so-called informed opinion? Some disgruntled architect or editor of a newspaper, or the body called the Cockburn Association, which has been wrong every time. It argued that central poles for tramways would ruin Edinburgh, it opposed tooth and nail the proposal to erect a public building at the foot of the Mount, and it opposed a structure which is now universally admitted to be in-offensive.
These are the quarters from which the opposition comes, and whether it is representative informed opinion or not, it certainly does not represent literary and academic opinion, and it is literary and academic opinion which surely matters in this connection, for they are literary and academic people who are going to use the library. I think the House should bear very much in mind that the opposition to these proposals does not come in the main from the people who will be the users of the National Library but comes, rather, partly from those who are inevitably opposed to everything and partly by those who want some grandiose building which can be proudly exhibited to visitors who have no particular interest whatever in its contents or in securing the best possible use of them by the people to whom they can be of value. The real problem is not of some magnificent architectural building, but it is to be able to utilise the library at the earliest possible moment and with the minimum of disturbance and interruption to work. If it is to be secured at the earliest possible moment, I am afraid in present circumstances it must be secured at the least. possible cost, The House will be very ill-advised to allow the National Library trustees to look a gift horse in the mouth. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) to talk about worthy temples. It is another thing to consider how the finances can be provided.
There are two other matters to which I should like to refer. First of all, it is apparent that there is no unanimity among the opponents of the proposal as to an alternative site. An important section of them agree that the library must be within a certain area which excludes the Calton Hill site, and they are forced therefore to plump for the Police Court site, but many of the objections which can be urged, and have been urged, against the Sheriff Court site are equally applicable to the Police Court site, and particularly the danger, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, of fire owing to the fact of not having an isolated building. It has also been represented that the National Library on the Sheriff Court site means building on the top of a hole. The same applies to the Police Court site, and surely a good deep hole through a building upon a slope is the very thing which a copyright library needs, for it must have some storage for all the junk which inevitably accumulates—the leading articles of the "Scotsman," the works of Edgar Wallace and such things, which are far better buried, but which must be kept. If the library has a deep hole in which it can store them, so much the better. Certainly it is true that unless the library goes down deeply from the level of its main floor, it must either be a very poor building or occupy a very much larger area of ground.
There is a final consideration, and that is something which has actuated me throughout. We know that the National Library trustees are a very distinguished body of men representing all sorts of interests in Scotland. They have been appointed to do the job, and if you appoint a body of eminently qualified men to carry out this work, surely the only thing is to let them do it in their own way, and trust them to carry out what you have given them to do, and not try to interfere with them at every turn? It cannot be said that this is something specially outside the ordinary administrative duties entrusted to the National Library trustees, for this problem was urgent when they were appointed. It was the consideration of the inadequacy of accommodation very largely which led the Faculty of Advocates to transfer the library. It was known when the trustees were appointed that this was the first and most important problem with which they would have to deal, and it was very much in their minds when they were appointed. In these circumstances, it cannot be said this is a problem with which they are not competent to deal.
Originally, it was said by the opponents of the present proposal—and this shows the misleading nature of the propaganda carried on against this proposal—that the trustees were certainly a very fine body eminently qualified, but that they had never really applied their minds to this, because their hands were tied from the beginning by the conditions of the gift of £100,000. Then it was said that the trustees should investigate the whole problem for a year and a half, and make up their minds before it was proposed. Besides being an eminently qualified body appointed to do the job, which should therefore be left to them, let it be borne in mind that they were appointed not in any sense as an advisory body, but as an executive body, with power not only to examine, to consider and to recommend, but with power to turn their recommendations into effect. I beg the House not to stand in the way of letting these eminently suitable men, who know very much more about the problem than we can do, to carry out the work as they have decided to do it.
I have been brought upon my feet sooner than I intended this evening by the very interesting and amusing speech which one of our new Members has made. It was somewhat touching to find in the latter part of the speech that wonderful devotion to divine authority which is not so characteristic of him in his political or other utterances, or in his references to the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne), or by implication to myself. I have moved in politics for some years longer than he has, and when he has had some years more experience, he will not so lightly belittle the intelligence of his fellow-subjects in Scotland as to say that 99 per cent. of them are not in the least interested in the subject. I am not one of those Anglo-Scots who have come south to leaven the loaf of English energy, for I still preserve my close association with Scotland. When the hon. Member talks about enlightened opinion, there are some of us who have very close connection with the Royal Academy of Scotland, and some experience of literature, law and learning. When we voice our views, we consider that we should have the same respect as one of our newest Members has for his views. It may suit the hon. Member to quote with such devotion the various Royal Commissions and Committees which he has mentioned, but I would say that it is just as easy to shepherd committees as to form public opinion. There have been certain people who had formed a definite idea of what they wanted carried out and they have acted with the highest motives. They have very adroitly and insistently confirmed that opinion in those bodies which are not directly open to the pressure of public opinion. It is a mere travesty of justice to say that there was a real inquiry into all the merits of the site now proposed for the library when it is well known that the terms of reference to the Commission excluded inquiry upon almost every point. All this was pre-determined by the committee which had previously been dealing with the question.
Of course, I appreciate the generosity of Sir Alexander Grant not only for the money he gave but for his consideration for what had been done by the Faculty of Advocates. That, however, does not rule out another site which has been mentioned, and it does not rule out the possibility of adopting the site on Calton Hill. I have no conclusive proof that we can get anything like the accommodation adequately to deal with the needs of a real national library on the site approved by the trustees. We are told that the scheme will provide accommodation for 400 additional readers, but there seems to be some discrepancy as to what forms proper reading space as compared with libraries all over the country. This House must not when a Provisional Order has been secured for Scotland, forego the right of those who disagree with it to come back to this House, and, if they can bring a prima facie case against it, that is as much their right as the right of free speech.
We have been told something about the delay which has occurred in taking this Bill. In regard to this Measure no one has shown more public spirit than the Prime Minister, and it has been a great grief to him and to us that after putting off the Bill to give him that opportunity that he is precluded from speaking upon it. On these questions, I am almost certain that both the Prime Minister and Sir Alexander Grant would be willing to meet the opinion of Scotland. We must not forget that for all time we are building a worthy national library, and we are building it for a beautiful city, a city with a great historic past and rich in all the annals which go to make up a great city and the worthy capital of a great country. We hear some talk of the seriousness of a delay of four years, but what is a few years' delay in the case of a city that sits enshrined upon its hills looking over the hills of Fife and the distant mountains, immemorial in its age and immortal in its youth. In this matter ret us take no rash steps. Let us refuse the Second Reading of this Bill and have an authoritative inquiry that will do justice to our great city, the capital of a great nation.
The subject which we are discussing to-night is indeed a worthy theme for the eloquence of the hon. Baronet the Member for North Edinburgh (Sir P. Ford) who has just spoken. There have been other speeches of great interest and eloquence on the subject, of which it is only fitting that I should mention the maiden speech delivered by the Noble Lord the Member for Perth (Lord Scone), and we shall look forward with interest to any further contribution by him to our Debates. The subject which we are discussing to-night is of great importance to the City of Edinburgh, and for that reason alone it is a question which deeply concerns Scotsmen and Scotswomen. We all feel that we have our share in the common heritage of Scotland, which, as the Noble Lord the Member for Perth has said, possesses the most beautiful and most romantic capital of any country in the world. We are, moreover, discussing the question of providing a national library not for Edinburgh only hut for all Scotland and not only Scottish Members but English Members have a direct responsibility for the granting of the money involved in this Bill, amounting to £100,000.
Nevertheless, it is not for me, and I do not propose to-night, to enter into the merits of this issue, which have been so eloquently discussed by previous speakers. I intervene only to satisfy what I am sure will be the natural requirement of the House, that I should state the views of the Government on this Bill. I find, on an examination of previous cases in which controversy has arisen in the House on Scottish Private Bills or Provisional Order Confirmation Bills, that, while it has not been the practice for the Government to exercise any form of pressure on Members of the House, Ministers of the Crown, apart from any personal opinion or predilection or interest in the matter at issue, have submitted to the House as a general principle that we should respect the considered verdicts of our local legislation committee and of the commissioners appointed under our Provisional Order procedure, and that we should not upset or disturb their verdicts except on the most cogent grounds. With that view I am in whole-hearted agreement.
The merits of this project have been exhaustively examined by the Board of Trustees for the Library, by the Royal Commission on Museums and Galleries, and by the commissioners appointed under our Provisional Order procedure, who, after a most exhaustive hearing last summer, decided unanimously that this was a project of which they could approve; and it is my submission to the House that it is to that verdict rather than to the eloquent speeches which we have heard to-night from both sides—that verdict of those men who, as my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General for Scotland pointed out, gave five days to the discussion of this project, to the hearing of witnesses, and to the examination of plans—it is to that verdict, I feel sure, that hon. Members will attach weight when they vote to-night.
It is true that in this particular case the Government has a measure of responsibility such as a Government seldom has when a Private Bill or Confirmation Order is under discussion. The Government have not felt that the circumstances justify a departure from the usual established procedure as regards their intervention in this Debate; but, in view not only of our financial commitments, which we inherited from our predecessors and which they inherited from their predecessors, but of the authority which was given by the Government to the Trustees of the National Library in 1928 to accept Sir Alexander Grant's gift, with the conditions attached to that gift, the responsibility of the Government is more involved in this Measure than in the ordinary Private Measure, and it does, I think, justify me in urging, more strongly than I should normally feel it my duty to do, the view that the House should not reverse a decision which has been reached after so much and such thorough examination.
This House has delegated its authority in this matter to Commissioners, who have done their work so well that I think that we of the parent body may well envy their comparative immunity from criticism. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) referred, in answer to an interruption, to the fact that this Library could be erected wherever the House of Commons decides to establish this great institution. It is my submission to the House to-night that the House of Commons is not the right body to decide where this great institution should be erected. We have had the opinions of the Board of Trustees, of the Royal Commission on Museums and Galleries—who were not limited, as some speakers have suggested, in their terms of reference—and we have, in addition, the opinion arrived at, after much careful examination and discussion extending over five days, by our own Commissioners. If we do not trust the Commissioners, we should alter the procedure.
This question of the authority which we delegate to the Commissioners, and of how far the House should call it in question, has been raised many times before. Of course I do not for a moment dispute the absolute right of the hon. Member for North Edinburgh and other opponents of this Measure to come to the House and raise the matter here, but nevertheless we have an absolute right to take the line that, unless very cogent reasons are advanced, or unless some new facts are brought forward which did not come into the purview of the Commissioners, we ought to uphold their decision.
In the discussion on the Arizona Copper Bill, the then Lord Advocate, Mr. Graham Murray, now Lord Dunedin, said that the whole idea of the Private Bill procedure was that of devolution, and that the whole spirit of the speech to which he was replying was that the local inquiry was to be overruled by the House of Commons. Mr. Thomas Shaw, now Lord Craigmyle, who was also subsequently Lord Advocate, speaking in the same Debate, expressed the same opinion even more emphatically; and Mr. Robert Munro, now Lord Alness, when Secretary of State for Scotland, in the discussion on another Private Bill, said that, unless a Member of the House, with a full sense of responsibility, having read and pondered over the evidence, had reached the firm conviction that a different conclusion should have been arrived at by the Committee upon that evidence, he was not entitled to disturb their decision; while in 1907 the House of Commons rejected a Motion for the rehearing of a case in which the Government had no particular concern, and which had been decided only by the casting vote of the Chairman. Let us, then, to-night uphold that principle of delegation and devolution. To do otherwise, when the proposal under discussion has been unanimously approved, not only by the Commissioners, but by the Board of Trustees and by the Royal Commission on Museums and Galleries, and when the Measure involves a considerable degree of Government responsibility, would be a grave and far-reaching departure from the principle which this House has on similar occasions in the past upheld, and one which could not fail to affect the whole machinery of our Private Bill legislation.
I propose, with the leave of the House, to withdraw the Amendment which I have moved, but I hope the House will allow me to say a word or two in explanation. I am responding to what is the obvious sense of the majority of the Members here—I will not say any considerable majority, but I think a majority—and also to the very urgent appeal which was made to us by the Solicitor-General for Scotland at the end of his speech. I am also moved by the considerations which the Secretary of State for Scotland has put before the House in regard to the effect upon Private Bill legislation of reversals by the House, which, of course, ought not to be sanctioned unless upon the strongest grounds.
I would like to say, however, that, so far as I am concerned, and I think so far as concerns everyone who has spoken in opposition to this Measure, we have been influenced by no propaganda of any sort Whatsoever. We do not belong to any cliques; we have taken no sides; but we have been expressing what in our hearts is a completely earnest and honest conviction; and, while that view does not seem likely to prevail with the House, we nevertheless hold it not the less firmly. We defer to the position which has been taken up by the Government, and the evidence of the difficulties which might be occasioned by the reversal of the decision of one of our Par- liamentary Committees. But, none the less, we hope it will be recognised that we have performed some service in ventilating the topic, and I hope everyone will leave this branch of our business with the feeling that we Scottish Members are particularly anxious to conserve our interests in Scotland and to do the best we can for our country.