Schedule

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th July 1972.

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THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD AND ITS ADVISORY COUNCILS

12 midnight.

Photo of Mr William Van Straubenzee Mr William Van Straubenzee , Wokingham

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 6, line 45, at end insert: '5A. In Part III of Schedule 1 to the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1957 (which specifies offices the holders of which are disqualified under that Act) as it applies to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, there shall be inserted at the appropriate point in alphabetical order the entry "Any member of the British Library Board in receipt of remuneration" '. I hope that the Opposition feel that in tabling the Amendment I have discharged the undertaking which I gave in Committee. It was the intention of the Committee upon a free vote that an hon. Member who was made a member of the British Library Board but who served without remuneration should not in that event be disqualified by virtue of serving as such—that is to say, disqualified from membership of the House.

The matter has been linked—I shall explain the matter shortly—to the House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1957. It will be recalled that this is the way the House in that year codified the matter not only in this but in many other respects. There are two ways in which the Schedule to the Act, which is in three parts, can be amended. There are respectable precedents for amending it by another Act of Parliament, and that is the way which we have chosen. I hope that I am not failing in my duty to the House by explaining the matter so briefly.

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham North

The objectives of the Amendment are common ground. We have examined the Amendment and can find nothing wrong with it. The Opposition welcome the Amendment and will support it.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham North

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 8, line 17, leave out from 'as' to end of line 18 and insert: 'as the Board may freely negotiate in accordance with the appropriate machinery'. The Under-Secretary of State will immediately recognise the Amendment is a revamping of an Amendment which was attempted in Committee and which caused the Committee a little confusion due to some maladroit drafting, causing me possibly even more confusion. As the hon. Gentleman's speech in Committee was almost entirely directed to the drafting, I felt that it would be appropriate that the Amendment should be presented again so that we might probe a little deeper. It is a matter of interest to this side of the House.

As I understand the paragraph which we are discussing, when the British Library Board, through the appropriate machinery to be set up, has reached agreement with staff and employees on terms and conditions, the Secretary of State and the Minister for the Civil Service can intervene and say that the agreement is improper for some reason or other and it shall not be allowed.

It may well be that even when a top executive, a more senior employee of the board, negotiates his personal contract of service, and that again fails to find favour with the Secretary of Slate or the Minister for the Civil Service, they can step in and disallow the agreement.

It seems that there is no review procedure which the Secretary of State or the Minister of the Civil Service can go through before intervening. They seem to be able to intervene almost by whim. That does not seem to be a good recipe for good industrial relations, particularly when it is the board's staff only which is dealt with in this way. Maybe there are other groups of employees who are so dealt with, but it is not a common practice. Perhaps we are not understanding the paragraph as well as we should do. In that case we should be pleased to have the Under-Secretary's explanation.

We are not referring to pensions because they have always been subject to review in the public service. There is a procedure for suggesting pension improvements, making improvements and setting up pension schemes, and obviously the British Library Bill is not the place to alter that procedure. Subject to that, we should be pleased to hear what the Under-Secretary has to say about this paragraph.

Photo of Mr William Van Straubenzee Mr William Van Straubenzee , Wokingham

I hope to be able to set the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest. If I heard him correctly, he said that this was not a normal provision. He will be relieved to find that it is indeed a very normal provision. It appears in a large number of broadly similar Measures—for example, the Acts establishing the Highlands and Islands Development Board, the Race Relations Board, the Eggs Authority, the Community Relations Commission and the British Tourist Authority. I take these examples at random because they were all passed by the last Government and therefore have a respectability and an appeal to the hon. Gentleman which they might not otherwise have.

In broad terms there are two reasons for retaining an element of ministerial control in this matter. First, the Government have an important duty to protect the interests of the taxpayer in relation to financial assistance to grant-aided bodies, and this includes ensuring that Exchequer funds are properly used for remuneration purposes, particularly as these often account for a very large proportion of the expenditure of the bodies concerned. Secondly, it is surely desirable that where salaries are financed by the taxpayer's money reasonably consistent pay standards should be applied.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will notice in particular the buttress which is given to the principle of collective bargaining, to which the Government fully subscribe, by new Clause 6 which was added in Committee. If he has any lingering doubts, it happens that, in looking over the various examples I have given, because I have a simple mind I was attracted by the case of the Eggs Authority as being the nearest parallel that I could understand. In the Committee stage of the Agriculture Act, 1969, the Minister in charge, Mr. James Hoy, now the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, had this to say when an exactly similar Amendment was moved by the then Opposition: …ministerial control over the pay and allowances of the Authority's staff…has been included because it is now considered appropriate, when we are establishing new statutory bodies, with provision for a significant Government contribution towards their expenditure, that there should also be a provision for ministerial supervision over pay and allowances. I would have thought that this would have been acceptable to hon. Members opposite. Where the Government are contributing towards staff salaries there is a need to ensure that the Government get value for money."—[Official Report; Standing Committee B, 25th November, 1969; c. 104.] Those are good trenchant Tory phrases from a Labour Minister. I cannot go quite as far as Lord Hoy did on that occasion but, seeing the respectability of the argument and the antecedents behind it, the hon. Gentleman may feel that he can support it now. Indeed, the then Opposition, having probed, were so impressed by Lord Hoy's argument that they withdrew their Amendment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to do the same tonight.

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham North

I am not entirely impressed with the arguments but I am impressed with the respectability of their origin and for that reason, and because the Under-Secretary accepted our new Clause 6, which goes a long way to ensuring that the staff of the British Library Board will have proper rights, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

12.10 a.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

I believe that this great imaginative scheme which we are discussing would never have seen the light of day, let alone have reached the Statute Book as it now seems likely to do, without the energy and per- sistence of my noble Friend, the sometime Chairman of the British Museum Trustees and now the Paymaster-General and Minister responsible for the arts. It would be the wish of quite a number of hon. Members that we should pay tribute to the noble Lord for his work in making sure that the British Library became a reality.

12.11 a.m.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

While I share the views of the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) to some extent, I hope that I am not out of order in also expressing some regret that, so far as one can tell, construction of the British Library will mean the removal, the obliteration, of several of those small streets in Holborn area in which quite a number of people actually reside. The centre of London is being rapidly depopulated.

Could the Minister, even at this late date, tell us whether there is any chance that some of these small streets, like Museum Street, Bury Street and Bury Place, can still be preserved or are they all being swept away for this scheme which is in many respects desirable?

12.12 a.m.

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham North

We have a Motion down which in form leads us to oppose Third Reading but the Under-Secretary may rest assured that it is there only as a technicality to allow us a few words of benediction from this side.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

Qualified benediction.

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham North

Qualified, as my hon. Friend says. But we have reached the stage at which, if we cannot express ourselves with enthusiasm, we have at least come to co-belligerency, and on this Measure we are on the same side.

It has been a joint effort. We are sometimes beastly when the Under-Secretary is being beastly on some other Measures, so it is only fair to say that he has handled this Bill fairly. I commend his sense of judgment when he encouraged the Committee to have a free vote on the question whether Members of Parliament should be allowed to serve without remuneration on the British Library Board. He did well there. As a result of our deliberations we are reassured that people with scientific and technical knowledge can be appointed to the Board, together with those with experience in the trade union movement and those who represent employees.

If I had a broad criticism of the Bill as drafted, before it came to the House, I would have said that not enough attention had been paid to the human factor, to the board's employees. Although this has not been removed to the extent which I would have liked, it is substantially removed and the Bill is better because of that. This should be taken care of because its employees are likely to be fairly well-educated and high-quality people and there should be leadership of high quality for such a labour force, with machinery through which it can be exercised.

We are grateful for the eagle eye of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) who ensured that the board is provided with protection from bureaucratic interference with its meetings. We have improved the Bill. We have provided the powers to ensure that we can all hope to watch with growing pride a graceful edifice emerging and an intelligent development with the beauty of preserved buildings in the heart of the capital city. Here I join with my hon. Friend in the hope that the architect will take into account the value of preserving as much as possible of the existing buildings. When the whole operation is complete, we all hope to find a rich storehouse of knowledge wisely and sensitively administered.

It will not have escaped the attention of the Under-Secretary that several of my hon. Friends were disappointed in Committee that the Government could not at this stage see their way to providing branches in the regions devoted to science and technology. We most sincerely hope that the Government will make every endeavour to provide, regionally, scientific and technological libraries, and we shall watch the Government with vigilance in the years to come to make sure that the promise contained in the White Paper is not forgotten. The Bill gives the power to carry out this regional operation if the funds are provided. Whilst we appreciate that many problems have to be faced in the first year or two and, therefore, as an Opposition we agree with the Government in not starting off at once on this venture, we shall see that they do not forget.

We welcome the Bill and will not oppose its Third Reading.

12.17 a.m.

Photo of Mr William Van Straubenzee Mr William Van Straubenzee , Wokingham

I start by thanking the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) for his welcoming remarks. It is quite true that the Bill's progress has been marked by a working together on both sides, first of the Committee and now of the House, because this is not a contentious matter.

I shall draw most gratefully to the attention of my noble Friend the Paymaster-General the kind remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) which, if I may say so with respect, are absolutely deserved.

I shall also draw to the attention of those responsible the anxieties expressed by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), but in saying that I must not lead him to assume that it will be possible, certainly in respect of all the streets he mentioned, to retain the existing buildings. To give him that impression would be to mislead him, and I would not wish to do that. I believe that it is the intention to have an exhibition, at which we shall be able to see the plans for this very remarkable complex, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and others will wish to take advantage of the opportunity. Indeed, if I might, I would like to make quite sure that that particular opportunity is drawn specifically to his notice.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

I only raised the subject because we know that plans have been modified already once or twice—for instance, to preserve the very important building on the corner of Bloomsbury Square.

Photo of Mr William Van Straubenzee Mr William Van Straubenzee , Wokingham

Indeed. That is why, in all good faith, I said that I would draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of those concerned, but I did not want, in doing so, to mislead him into thinking that it might be possible to retain all the buildings he mentioned.

On Second Reading I ventured to suggest that the Bill needed to be forward looking. That is quite true. There are many aspects of excellence, an excellence of which we can all be very proud, in the present institutions which, of course the British Library will want to preserve and, if possible, even to enhance, but it will need to go beyond that. It was the hon. Member for Lewisham, North who rightly reminded us of the immense increase of human knowledge in the past 20 years, and the need for a powerful and highly efficient organisation to accumulate it and make it available as required to those people who wish to make use of it. The problem is one which will increase, not diminish, as the years go on.

The British Library will be fully capable of responding to the challenges this problem presents. Its comprehensive library and information services will build upon all that is excellent in what it has inherited from the past. But it will need—and this has been constantly reiterated—to be in the forefront of progress in all matters relating to libraries, whether this progress is towards new forms of material, new methods of keeping and transmitting it in original or copy form, new developments in library operations and management, or in any other aspect which is relevant to its central rôle in relation to this country's library system and to the principal libraries of overseas countries.

It is because I wanted to emphasise the forward-looking nature of the legislation that I have addressed these few remarks to the House. I like to think that this has been a discussion of unanimity. Those who are concerned and those who will work within this remarkable new complex can be assured that both sides of the House wish it well in its task.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.

ADJOURNMENT

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Kenneth Clarke.]