Orders of the Day — British Museum Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th April 1955.

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Order for Second Reading read.

9.9 p.m.

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

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

It is for the advancement of scientific research that I am asking the House to give a Second Reading to this short Bill. Its main purpose is to render it possible for objects in the collection of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington to be lent abroad for research purposes. At present, if the Trustees desire to make a loan of that kind, they have no statutory authority to do so. The Bill will free their hands in a direction in which the House, with its constant interest in scientific advance, will, I hope, agree that they ought to have freedom.

I do not know how familiar hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are with the Natural History Museum as it is today. I used to be taken there as a small boy. In recent years I have several times been up its steps again, and if anyone imagines that it is a place of interest only to experts and children, I advise them to go there and see for themselves what fascinating evidence it contains of the extraordinary wonders of the world in which we live.

The Natural History Museum is under the same body of Trustees as is the British Museum. The difference between the two collections is that the Natural History Museum covers distinctive branches of science, zoology, entomology, geology, mineralogy and botany. I lay no claim to expert knowledge of any of these sciences, but it will not surprise the House to learn that they have nowadays reached such a high level of specialisation that experts in any given aspect of their study are very few, and are scattered all over the world.

In the case, for instance, of a collection of harvest mites, the best advice on their identification can be obtained in some instances only by referring them to an expert on the Continent. I am told that the leading experts on certain kinds of spiders are to be found in Paris. Obscure examples of the minute crop pests known as thrips ought to be sent in some instances to the United States, in other instances to South Africa, for accurate identification.

The Bill will empower the Trustees, when such specimens come into their possession, to refer them to the appropriate expert in any part of the world for comparison, identification, research and report. There will be practical benefit from this, not only to the foreign scientists, but to the Natural History Museum itself, which is not in a position to make the best possible use of the specimens if it is not able to know with precise certainty exactly what they are.

Furthermore scientists all over the world are working on some problems which can be solved only by reference to material which is to be found in our Natural History Museum and nowhere else. The powers in the Bill will enable the Trustees, of course, under proper safeguards, to lend specimens which might enable important research projects to be carried through to success.

In the scientific world. I am sure the House would agree, all such services should be reciprocal. The Natural History Museum is constantly indebted to other institutions for the loan of the material needed for furtherance of scientific research carried on in the Museum here. I must emphasise that under the present state of the law the Trustees are not empowered to reciprocate.

I feel sure that the House will appreciate that the kind of work which I have described has its relevance, not only in the rarefied atmosphere of pure science, but in practical results of high importance for medicine and agriculture which can flow from the accurate identification of specimens which come into the Museum's possession. It would be impossible for the staff of the Museum, highly skilled as it is, to include experts in every variety of organism or material.

Up to now I have described Clause 1. Clause 2 is something of a curiosity but I hope to prove to the House that it is valuable. It will empower the Trustees to destroy objects in the collections of the Natural History Museum which are deteriorating or infested. Think a moment, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, of the animals and birds which I have no doubt you have seen at South Kensington, and you will realise that in the course of years objects of that sort are liable to become infested with moth, worm or beetle.

It is quite impossible to prevent that happening occasionally in so large a collection. When it happens, those objects not only cease to have any value to the museum but obviously they become something of a menace to the rest of the collection. Clause 2 will make it lawful for the Trustees to have them destroyed.

The House may well inquire why it is necessary to come to Parliament for power to get rid of an infested giraffe—I am not saying that we have an infested giraffe at the moment. Here I come to the curiosity. The main British Museum Act was passed 202 years ago—in 1753—and Section 9 of that Act provides that the collections hall remain and be preserved therein for Publick Use to all Posterity. Since then it is true that there have been further statutes empowering the Trustees to get rid of duplicate articles and, under certain conditions, to sell objects which they no longer think fit to keep, but I am advised that there is no power whatever to destroy, and the destruction of these poor, inanimate, decaying creatures would appear to be a direct breach of Section 9 of the 1753 Act.

The Trustees are people who have every reason to wish to keep within the law. The Trustees include the Solicitor-General, the Attorney-General, the Master of the Rolls, the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor, not to speak of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and one whom we should all wish to see emulating these other luminaries in law-abiding respectability, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). Conspicuous among all, Mr. Speaker himself is actually included among the Trustees.

I know that the Trustees are anxious that the Bill should pass, not only to preserve their respectability, but because Clause 1 is really of the first importance. It is for the sake of Clause 1 that I bring forward the Bill, but I trust the House will agree that, since for the sake of Clause 1 it is desirable to legislate in any event, it is sensible to seize this opportunity of enacting Clause 2 also, thereby making sure that the Act of 1753 does not force Mr. Speaker or any of his distinguished colleagues into law-breaking in order to get rid of the worms, the beetles and the moths.

9.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

On behalf of my fellow Trustees, I should like to thank the Government for bringing forward this Bill. It has been under negotiation for a number of years; in fact, the preliminary negotiations took place under the former Government. The Bill has been reduced in its text so as to ask the House for nothing more than is absolutely necessary.

The Natural History Museum is, of course, the successor of the original collection. This consisted of objects gained in one way and another by Sir Hans Sloane which he left to the nation, and which were the cause of the passing of the British Museum Act, 1753. But the Natural History Museum is something more than a collection of curious objects. It is one of the greatest scientific investigating institutions in the world. It is frequently consulted by various Departments of Her Majesty's Government, such as the Colonial Office, and by the Governments of the Dominions, with regard to scientific knowledge; in connection with agriculture, in its widest sense, and fisheries, and on a great many Government activities, such as the storage of food. On these, this Museum has managed to establish an unrivalled position in the world.

The Financial Secretary said that this type of knowledge has now become highly specialised. The greatest experts in the world are to be found in practically all the civilised countries. One man may have specialised in some peculiar form of beetle which is of vital interest to a particular nation which is troubled because of some development in, for example, its agriculture. There are insects which are very inimical to domestic animals in various parts of the world and it is desirable that a free interchange both of knowledge and specimens should take place between different museums.

When one hears of the thousands of species of the smallest kinds of living things, and the tremendous difference in usefulness or destructiveness that a slight variation in related species will cause, one realises how important is this free interchange. In recent months the Natural History Museum has had to ask the Danish Museum, in Copenhagen, the Australian Museum, in Sydney, and the Western Australian Museum, in Perth, for the loan of specimens of limbless lizards; the Museum in Lisbon for a swallow; and curiously enough, the Museum in Neuchatel for geckos from Portuguese Guinea.

The Paris Museum has sent us specimens of the click-beetle and the United States National Museum specimens of the food-pest beetle. The South African Museum, in Cape Town, and the Hungarian National Museum, in Budapest, have sent specimens of gnats. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that the exchange of scientific opinion and of specimens has taken place across, or through, the Iron Curtain.

The Brussels Museum, the Stockholm Museum and the Oslo Museum have lent us fossil fishes of the Devonian period for critical studies of stratigraphy. The Corindon Museum, of Nairobi, has also lent us botanical specimens, the Jamaica Institute has lent us plants for the flora of Jamaica, and from the Vienna Museum we have had minerals for X-ray analysis.

The astounding position is that we have to ask these various museums for these favours, which are readily given, but that when they ask us for a specimen for the purposes of study, we are unable, under the existing law, to send them one. I am quite sure the House will realise that in matters of this importance it is highly desirable that we should be able to keep on the good terms with foreign institutions of the same kind that this Bill will enable us to get.

I cannot help thinking that the House will feel that we ought to be in a position to reciprocate wholeheartedly. For instance, during the past year we have borrowed from museums outside this country 1,400 specimens for botanical research alone. I think that foreign museums, knowing the limitations under which we have been placed, have been exceedingly generous in giving the response to our requests that they have done. Clause 1 will place us in the position that is now held by practically every one of the great museums with which we are in correspondence.

As far as Clause 2 is concerned, we have to recall that of all the specimens that were left by Sir Hans Sloane, in 1753, not one has survived. Some of our predecessors must at some time during the last 200 years have broken the law and either lost, conveniently, or destroyed, specimens that had undoubtedly deteriorated; because, of course, the knowledge of preservation of animal and botanical specimens was by no means as advanced 200 years ago as it is today.

During the war, with all the troubles that then overtook the Museum, undoubtedly deterioration that would not otherwise have occurred took place in the circumstances of the time. The unfortunate thing is that, once a specimen begins to deteriorate, it may become infested with some of the parasites to which the Financial Secretary alluded; I would not descend to calling them vermin, because that has a political connotation that I do not want to bring into this discussion. Those specimens may have so deteriorated that it became necessary for the protection of the remainder of the exhibits to destroy those that are infested. In addition, there are some fossil bones that crumble or become abraded, so that they show no anatomical features at all. It is desirable that they should not be preserved when they may possibly mislead students, of whom a very large number are interested in the Museum and go there for study.

The Trustees are grateful to the Government for introducing the Bill, because British Museum Bills have always been matters of Government legislation. A suggestion was made at one time that the Museum might proceed either by way of a Private Bill or a private Member's Bill, but the Trustees felt that this Museum held an especial place among the Museums of the country and has always been the subject of Government legislation when it has been necessary for it to be considered by this House. We trust that the House will realise the necessity which has compelled us to come to it.

I should like to try to forestall a possible objection to the Bill on the ground that the scientific world has been considerably disturbed quite recently by the discovery that what was called the Piltdown Skull was a fake, and that a body which had been responsible for it ought not to receive favourable consideration from the House. What happened in that matter was that a good many years ago a very skilful fake was undoubtedly planted upon the scientific world by a gentleman who may have had his own reasons for doing it—but the moment that modern methods of research enabled it to be established that the claims made for that specimen could not be maintained the Trustees made that plain to the world and made a complete confession.

I cannot help thinking that if, when, in some other walks of life, people discover that they have been deceived and, through that deception, have misled other people, they made an equally prompt and frank confession, intellectual life in this country might be a great deal easier.

I mention that only because I recollect that upon one occasion, when Mr. Speaker was question about the matter, he said that he had something better to do than look after a collection of old bones. I do not want to express any disrespectful views about one of the principal Trustees, either in that capacity or in his capacity as Speaker of this House, but I thought it only right to mention the matter. I dare say that some hon. Members have read the story which appeared in the "Sunday Times" over a succession of weeks, in which the whole history of the matter was laid before the country.

I trust that the House will feel that the two small provisions of the Bill will add to the reputation of this country as not merely a recipient but a giver of scientific information, and that we shall be able to take reasonable steps to preserve specimens from a deterioration that might spread to all by contamination from a few.

9.34 p.m.

Mr. W. M. F. Vane:

I am sure that there will be little or no opposition to this small Bill and its very reasonable object, expressed in its two short Clauses. Until the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) spoke, I am sure that some of us thought that Clause 2 was nearly 200 years overdue. Since the Trustees had no power to destroy any of their exhibits which were infested by destructive organisms, we had visions of cellar after cellar stacked full of mouldering remains, of which the Trustees had no statutory power to dispose.

The right hon. Gentleman has set our minds at rest on that score. He was very careful to explain that it was the predecessors of the present Trustees who have somehow lost or mislaid the whole of the original collection. If the present Trustees had pleaded guilty, I was wondering whether we should not have put something in the Bill by way of indemnity.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

It has always been held in this House that retrospective legislation is very bad. Surely the hon. Member is not suggesting that we should introduce that principle into this Bill?

Mr. Vane:

Exceptions prove every rule. I feel that in this case, in the interests of the honour and good name of the right hon. Gentleman, we might perhaps make an exception.

With regard to Clause 1 and the main purpose of the Bill. I see that the power to lend appears to be limited to purposes of research. I wonder whether we should not be wise, if we are to give the power to lend for purposes of research, to widen this purpose somewhat. Whereas I can fully understand the need to be able to reciprocate services which other museums overseas have been able to render as, surely there must be many occasions when the curious objects to which the right hon. Gentleman opposite referred might be very much appreciated if they could be lent to local museums in this country or elsewhere. In other words, I wonder whether we should not be hampering the Trustees somewhat in their work if this power to lend were limited strictly to the narrow sense of the word "research."

I know that works of art and exhibits of this kind cannot always be expected to be lent on loan either in this country or overseas. They may be too fragile or too valuable or there may be other reasons against doing so. But surely we can rely on the discretion of the Trustees to refuse requests. Where those reasons do not apply, I should like to think that the Trustees have somewhat wider powers.

I was interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman give a long list of various objects which the Trustees have thought fit to borrow from museums overseas for various purposes. The list, if I heard aright, included a swallow, and bearing in mind the weather last year, I should like to have thought that they would have been more generous in their demands, because, if they were trying to do us a good turn, surely they should remember that it takes more than one swallow to make a much-needed summer.

9.38 p.m.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I think that the whole House will welcome the contribution which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) made to the debate. When I heard the Financial Secretary opening the debate, I thought that he was treating it with a certain amount of rather condescending levity, and not with the seriousness which the Bill deserves, in view of the experience which my right hon. Friend has had as a member of the body of Trustees for a number of years.

The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) pointed out that from Clause 1 it appeared to him that the objects of the Bill were limited to lending for purposes of research. I also hope that they will be expanded during the Committee stage of the Bill. I notice that the Financial Secretary went rather further. He said that Clause I was needed in order that objects might be lent for purposes of research, identification and report. He did not say anything about exhibition.

It may or may not be desirable that objects of the natural history departments should be loaned abroad for purposes of exhibition. I have an open mind on that. I should not like it to be thought for the moment, from the way in which the Financial Secretary commended the Bill to the House, that this is merely a matter of concern to experts. It is also a matter of concern to the general public. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields pointed out, the British Museum is a subject of national interest, and therefore British Museum Bills have always been Government-sponsored and have not been left to the initiative of private Members.

In view of what the Financial Secretary told us, I wonder how it is that we have been able to get on in the past as well as we have done without being able to give these reciprocal privileges to foreign museums. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that our national prestige and reputation make it essential that we should not be in the position of privileged borrowers from other nations when we are not in a position, through lack of legislative powers, to give them reciprocal treatment.

I should like the Foreign Secretary to tell us at some later stage whether the trustees of all foreign museums are able to lend us objects out of their collections. My right hon. Friend listed a great number, including countries behind the Iron Curtain. One significant omission was the United States of America. Is there any inhibiting or restricting legislation in America which prevents, say, the Metropolitan Museum of New York, or any other big American museum, from lending objects to us? I mention that because one knows of other ways in which the United States is subject to hampering legislation. In view of the amount of research that takes place in the United States, I should like to know whether their position is the same as ours, and, if not, whether any comparable steps are being taken there.

The Government should, between now and a later stage of the Bill, consider the question of exhibition. Important as all research is, my experience is that there is an increasing popular interest in natural history. Have we found that because we cannot lend objects abroad for public exhibition, a handicap has been placed upon the Trustees of the British Museum in exhibiting some of the objects which they have borrowed for research?

I will take one example. One of the most important and certainly one of the most dramatic discoveries in the field of natural history during recent years—and I apologise if I mispronounce the name because I am not sure of its correct pronunciation—was the coelacanth, the large prehistoric fish thought to have been extinct for several million years and which, after a great deal of effort, was caught in the South African waters near Madagascar.

A great deal of public, as well as scientific and expert, interest has quite naturally been taken in the one or two specimens that have been obtained. They have been exhibited in Madagascar and in the Natural History Museum in France. I should have hoped that sooner or later they would have been available for a limited time on loan for exhibition here. Because of what they have read about this creature a great many English people are particularly interested to see the specimens; and it has, of course, immense importance in the whole field of natural history.

Perhaps the Financial Secretary could tell us whether it will be possible to arrange with, I think it is the French Government, for a specimen to be sent over. If we wanted to send to other countries objects of interest, I should like to feel that we, under Clause 1, reciprocate by sending such objects; not only for examination by experts, but for popular exhibition.

Though I do not think it particularly noticeable in the case of the British Museum, there is a tendency—and I thought that the Financial Secretary rather countenanced it by what he said—on the part, not so much of the Trustees, but of curators of some museums, to regard their exhibits as rather specialised objects chiefly of concern to scholars and experts. It is our duty to correct that attitude. The Trustees of the British Museum must have regard not only to the experts but to the public, and must see that, wherever possible, objects are publicly exhibited and publicly available.

I do not think that there will be any criticism of the Bill on the kind of ground which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields mentioned and attempted to forestall. He referred to the recent activities of the Trustees and others in exposing what he referred to as the fake of the Piltdown skull.

Having, like many others, read the recent publication about that research, I feel that the Trustees and all those concerned—particularly Dr. Kenneth Oakley and Mr. Le Gros Clark—are to be congratulated on their objectivity in exposing, without any reservation at all, what had been thought to be a particularly British contribution to anthropology. They rendered a great contribution to science in using modern methods of fluorescent testing and so forth to expose that deception irrefutably.

I have nothing to say about Clause 2. Like many other hon. Members I imagine it to be either long overdue or else otiose. As has been said, the law must have been observed in the breach rather than the observance for a great many years past. I am happy to think that the opportunity has been taken to put beyond any doubt the right of the Trustees—which they have probably exercised with impunity in the past—of destroying objects which have become … infested by destructive organisms or, by reason of physical deterioration, have become useless. …

9.50 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Commander Peter Smithers Lieut-Commander Peter Smithers , Winchester

When a British Museum Bill was introduced into this House in the first Session of this Parliament, I was one of three hon. Members—the others were two of my hon. Friends—who put their names to a Motion to oppose it, and I did so at that time purely because it contained no reference to loan powers.

I do not think we ought to legislate for the British Museum without having loan powers. I am, therefore, very glad indeed to welcome this Bill, because it takes at least some steps in the direction of giving loan powers to the Museum. I should like to add my plea to that of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) that we should examine the possibility of extending the Bill to cover not only power to loan but power for exhibition. I should like to see this power extended beyond the Natural History Museum to the whole British Museum.

That is the only purpose of my intervention. I feel that we have not been able to give proper reciprocity, either in the field of science or in that of art, to the many valuable loans which we have frequently received in this country, and I think that we ought to be able to do so. I am delighted to find that the Bill now takes at least a first step in that direction.

9.52 p.m.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

When much of the legislation for which the present Government must be held responsible is forgotten, this Bill will stand to their credit. It is encouraging to observe that advantage has been taken during the concluding stages of this Parliament to introduce a useful Measure of this kind.

I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is not present at the moment. When the Financial Secretary says that the Trustees of the British Museum have been anxious about the difficulties which the Bill seeks to remove, I must confess that I have not noticed, either in Mr. Speaker or my right hon. Friend, any signs of undue anxiety in this or any other respect, but I accept what the Financial Secretary said, and, of course, the Trustees would desire to be forthcoming to the extent mentioned in this Bill.

I support what other hon. Members have said about widening the objects, if they need to be widened, beyond pure research, so that these objects can be loaned for purposes not purely confined to research. The Financial Secretary referred to other purposes for which loans might be made, such as comparison and identification, and it may be that the hon. Gentleman will be disposed to accept the Amendments at a later stage which will give effect to what I think could be reasonably interpreted as the wider intention to which he gave expression.

It came rather as a shock to me to hear the Financial Secretary say that there were objects in the world which the very skilled staff of the Natural History Museum might not know precisely, or be able to identify. I have always been under the impression that there was nothing in existence which could not be identified by one or other of the experts in the Natural History Museum, but it may be that by loaning objects for research the general corpus of knowledge will be increased.

It will add to the good repute of this country if we can reciprocate with other learned organisations in other parts of the world to the extent indicated under the Bill. It is fair to say that a system of mutual exchange ought to have been introduced long ago, but let us not be too critical and complain that the new move is tardy; let us do what we can to bring the Bill to the Statute Book as quickly as possible so that it will make what I am sure will be a useful contribution in the exchange of knowledge between this and as many other countries as are willing to contribute with us.

9.53 p.m.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Buckinghamshire South

I am sure that the whole House sympathises with the motives behind the Bill and listened with interest to the Financial Secretary's speech introducing it and the speech of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who supported him. I had no idea that the right hon. Gentleman had so many deteriorated specimens behind him, many of whom he was unable to identify or dispose of.

I note that the object of the Bill is to grant additional powers to Trustees of the British Museum, but I think that those powers are bound to remain a little more limited than some of my hon. Friends had hoped, because the Long Title refers only to "lending" and "purposes of research." I doubt whether the Bill can be amended in the way they would like.

My interests are rather the reverse of theirs. I want to support the Bill, and probably will do so in the end, but I doubt whether it is right to confer additional powers upon these Trustees who, ever since I have been in the House, have failed to keep the Reading Room of the British Museum open after five o'clock in the evening—except, of course, for Mr. Speaker and—

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

The Trustees of the Museum desire to do so, but the Government which the hon. Member supports declines to give us the necessary funds to enable us to do so.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Buckinghamshire South

The Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member consistently refused, when I requested them, to provide the extra staff to enable the Trustees to do so, and I am merely carrying on a campaign which I have been carrying on ever since I returned to the House and which I introduce out of season or in season. I think it is rather out of season at the moment, but I am sure it is none the less appropriate.

Last Session we had another Bill dealing with the British Museum, which extended to books and on which it was possible to argue, without getting out of order, that it was not easy to watch the infestation and destruction of books unless the Reading Room were opened after five o'clock in the evening because this process of infestation and destruction continued during the night and the scholars and others who ought to have been there watching these documents and books were, unfortunately, turned out and were unable to watch these processes during the dark hours.

I appreciate that this Bill is narrower than that and refers only to the Natural History Museum, but I hope that my hon. Friend will realise how unfortunately circumscribed it is and that when he next introduces a Bill relating to the British Museum it will include a direction to the Trustees to keep the Reading Room open after five o'clock and that he will use his undoubted influence with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make sure that the necessary funds are made available to the Trustees for the purpose.

9.59 p.m.

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

Perhaps I may have the leave of the House to reply to a few of the points which have been made. First, I want to thank the House for the unanimous reception it has given to the Bill and, in particular, to thank the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) for his support and for the extremely interesting justification, from his own knowledge, which he gave for the Trustees to the House. This appears to be one of the occasions when warm gratitude to the Government is expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite as well as by hon. Members on this side of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) raised the question of lending to local museums in this country and elsewhere, and other hon. Members took up that point. I assure them that the 1924 Act permits lending.

for public exhibition in any gallery or museum under the control of a public authority or university in Great Britain. Any duplicates can be so lent or articles other than duplicates which. in the opinion of the Trustees, can be temporarily removed … without injury to the interests of students or of the public. I hope that that assurance will satisfy my hon. Friends.

Other hon. Members raised the question of the scope of the powers for lending abroad. It is true that the Bill is limited to lending for scientific purposes. So far as I am aware there is no serious scientific demand for exhibition abroad of the class of specimens which it is proposed to send abroad under the Bill for purposes of identification and research, and I would remind the House that the object of the Bill is the advancement of science.

I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), that in certain circumstances it might be desirable to exhibit objects on loan abroad, but there are further considerations. Most of these articles do not travel easily and there is the risk of damage or loss; a risk which is considerably increased if the article is to be put on exhibition, as compared with the circumstances envisaged in the Bill where the object is being sent abroad for examination by foreign scientists. That is how it comes about that the Bill is drafted as it is.

When the hon. Member for Islington, East, asks me whether the trustees of all foreign museums lend to this country, I am afraid I cannot speak with comprehensive knowledge of all foreign countries. In the case of the United States, however, which, I think, he has specially in mind, I assure him that American museums lend to us quite freely and that we are extremely grateful to them. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the coelacanth, which he pronounced "keelacanth." I am advised that it is correctly pronounced "seelacanth"—the first "c" is soft and the second "c" hard. He and other hon. Members might like to know that the coelacanth has already been on view in the Natural History Museum, which seldom falls short in meeting the interest of the public.

Finally, the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton)—who also. I am glad to say, described the Bill as a valuable piece of legislation—questioned whether the staff at South Kensington was sufficiently capable to identify all the specimens which the collection contains. The staff we have there is a first-rate one, but possibly the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not realise—I do not blame him—that the number of recognised species of flowering plants alone is about 250,000.

There are over 1 million different species of animals, and in the face of numbers of that sort it is comprehensible that a limited staff cannot possibly possess the unlimited expert knowledge of every species and every variety that would be necessary if there were never to be a gap in the scientific coverage, so to speak, which the Natural History Museum staff can give.

It is because we want there to he no gaps as well as entire reciprocation with foreign scientists that the Bill is brought forward. We are bringing it forward so that the Natural History Museum may do its job in the future not only as excellently as it has done hitherto but even better, and so that it may serve not only the public of this country but also the experts of the whole world.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Studholme.]

Committee Tomorrow.