Orders of the Day — Duke of Wellington (Papers)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th June 1979.

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

3.23 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Hill Mr James Hill , Southampton, Test

You will of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker, be familiar with the significance of Wellington's career in British history, but since the emphasis in the public mind tends perhaps to lie on the military side, it is worth while stressing the political dimension.

Wellington had a political career of great importance after Waterloo, and it is likely to be there that the interest of most of the scholars who use his papers will centre. As Prime Minister in 1828–30, a candidate for the premiership again in 1832 and 1834, and a member of Peel's Cabinets in 1834–35 and 1841–46, he was at the heart of Government in a period of major changes in British society and politics. He was a key figure in the crises of Catholic emancipation, parliamentary reform, and the repeal of the Corn Laws.

Wellington was also of central significance in the affairs of the Tory Party for some 20 years, when Peel was striving to adapt it to the needs of an increasingly urban and industrial world. Except in the Countess of Longford's biography, Wellington's papers have so far been little exploited, either for the general political history of the period, or for the study of the development of the Tory and Conservative Party. It would certainly be Southampton university's aim to encourage research in both areas, where it has some existing expertise, and where the holdings of the Wellington pamphlets and parliamentary papers can fruitfully be used in juxtaposition with the manuscripts.

We should not, however, forget the military side, from Wellington's Indian and Peninsular campaigns and Waterloo to his period as commander-in-chief of the Army, and we should wish to remember also the local connections, symbolised by his lord lientenancy of Hampshire and residence at Stratfield Saye.

From all these points of view, the Wellington papers form a collection of great richness and extent, which would very much enlarge the resources and attraction of Southampton as a centre for research in modern British history, and would open up many possibilities of contact with scholars elsewhere.

In passing, I must stress that Southampton university has informed me that it has been very fairly treated by the Royal Commission on historical manuscripts and has had every opportunity and courtesy while putting its case. The purpose of this debate is to bring all the local points direct to my right hon. Friend.

Already in the Southampton university library, put on deposit by the eighth Duke of Wellington in 1977, there is the largest collection of materials relating to the first Duke. To give some idea of the extent of this material, the collection of Sessional Papers of the House of Lords 1801–2 to 1835 used by the first Duke durng his political career totals 236 volumes. These were deposited by the seventh Duke in 1953 when he was chancellor of the university and subsequently refurbished by the university library together with a collection of Wellington pamphlets, 3,300 in all, principally from the periods 1814–18 and 1827–41, and reflect the Duke's varied interests. Many carry notes of dedication by the author, and some have associated correspondence attached. These total 841 volumes.

The collection has been fully catalogued and is available in hard copy and micro-form. The catalogue is now computer-produced.

There is also a famous collection of parliamentary papers—the Hansard Second Series of Reports, Accounts, Papers and Bills 1801–26. This is an incomplete set, subject-arranged, specialzly prepared for the first Duke by Luke Graves Hansard. Only five sets were made at the time, and only one other is known to exist—strangely enough in the House of Commons Library—213 volumes in all. Once again, the Southampton university library refurbished all of these volumes.

One of the points that I must stress is the very strong links between the Wellington family and Southampton university. The fourth Duke was the first president of the university college on its attainment of that status in 1902. The second Duke was appointed president of the university in 1949 and the seventh Duke was confirmed as the first chancellor of Southampton university on its attainment of that status in 1952. The Southampton university library when making a submission to the Royal Commission on 7 March 1979 emphasised the links as described, but gave no indication of the scope of the care that would be taken with the papers if they were placed with Southampton university. Now that it has had the chance to examine the papers, it has come up with the following observations.

The collection of papers is substantially larger than published statements have led one to believe, and it is understood that there are over 60,000 documents at the Royal Commission alone. It is estimated that that is between one-quarter and one-third of the total collection and therefore amounts to the staggering figure of between 200,000 and 250,000 documents.

Approximately 80 per cent. of the papers at the British Library are in sound condition for their age, 20 per cent. will require special conservation measures and a small quantity are in extremely poor condition. There is a problem of how many papers can be rescued. Therefore, the overwhelming necessity will be the conservation of the papers. It is considered that all papers will need to be fumigated as a precautionary measure before bringing them into close proximity with other library material.

Southampton university has examined the way in which papers are stored at the Royal Commission, and the British Library research and development department is carrying out a similar process of treating the Blenheim papers. In due course it would seem that the best approach is to attach the documents individually to trimmed sheets so that they can be accommodated in folio binders.

We consider that in addition to fumigation further conservation measures will definitely be needed. We wish to discuss these with the interested and expert parties in the light of a more detailed assessment of the collection.

It is provisionally estimated that the papers will require nine man-years of conservation work. The intention would be to start cataloguing the papers as soon as possible, and the tentative provisional estimate is that there is 15 man-years of work. From the beginning it is proposed to make use of the expertise in automated cataloguing built up by the Southampton university library since 1970 which, as I said earlier, is computer-controlled.

A serious consideration for my right hon. Friend in his decision is accommodation. The shelving requirements imposed by the collection are not large and amount to the equivalent of about 1,500 folio volumes. The library expects the completion of its extension building by the autumn, and that will provide the additional space needed.

The accommodation reserved for the collection would need to meet the following criteria. It would have to be capable of accommodating the collection and the associated Wellington material already on deposit. It would have to be secure. The temperature, humidity and cleanliness of the atmosphere would have to be adequately controlled. The accommodation would have to provide sufficient room for a library staff member and space for eight readers. Additionally, ample laying-out space would be essential, especially in the earlier years.

The Southampton university library has considered these requirements. If the papers are deposited with the university it would be proper for broader national interests to be associated with their management. The university has a parliamentary papers research committee that promotes the interests associated with the library's outstanding collection of nineteenth century parliamentary papers. It would be proposed to establish a Wellington papers research committee and nominate to that committee prominent figures who would have concern for the proper management of the collection.

The financial implications of receiving the papers are considerable. Urgent efforts are being made to secure the necessary financial guarantee, possibly from outside sources. The university's case for being considered to have special Wellington connections is good. It will treat the papers, if they are deposited, as a resource of the most exceptional kind rather than as one more addition to a large and distinguished holding.

Having put the case for the two major Wellington collections to come together, the university of Southampton would in no way wish to overstate its claim. We shall without demur abide by the decision of my right hon. Friend.

It is fair to state in conclusion that Mr. Bernard Naylor, the university librarian, Professor Paul Smith and Mr. Peter Cockton were instrumental in helping me prepare this speech. The team at Southampton university is energetic and keen. My right hon. Friend need not fear that if he made the decision for which I ask the collection would not remain in pristine condition and be available to all those who come to the university.

3.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) both on his initiative in obtaining this debate and on the manner in which he addressed the House. It was, if he will allow me to say so, a most enlightening and informative speech, extremely erudite and well argued, and if this decision were to be taken on the eloquence, the sincerity, the economy and the logic of my hon. Friend, the papers could go off to Southampton tomorrow. Unhappily, other considerations have had to be taken into account besides my hon. Friend's persuasive advocacy.

I am sure that the University of Southampton owes my hon. Friend a great debt of gratitude for the way in which he has put forward his view. I certainly am interested in the University of Southampton—I have associations with it myself. My associations with the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are perhaps better known, as also are my associations with Harvard and Yale, but in fact I spent a period at Southampton university as a lecturer, and I know very well the high standards of scholarship which are associated with it.

I welcome, then, this opportunity of hearing the university's case for receiving the Wellington papers put at length, and it gives me the opportunity of describing the procedure which is followed in the Office of the Arts and Libraries for deciding the institution to which collections of papers like this go. The procedure is established and I intend to follow it in this case and in other cases like it. First, I want to say a few words about the Wellington papers themselves.

The papers, which have been accepted for the nation in lieu of estate duty, comprise the entire military, official, diplomatic and political correspondence and papers of the first Duke of Wellington, better known, of course, as the Iron Duke. There are, furthermore, some papers from his brother, the Marquis Wellesley and the first Baron Cowley. In all, there are over 100,000 individual documents covering the whole of the great duke's career from 1790 until his death in 1853 at the reasonable age of 83. Many of these documents are, of course, in the duke's own hand.

The Duke of Wellington's service to his country was remarkable both in its length and in its variety. He achieved military fame for his successes in the Napoleonic Wars; he became commander-in-chief of the Army. But, of course, he also had pre-eminent success in political life. He served as a Cabinet Minister for 13 years, and for three years held the highest political office open to a subject, that of Prime Minister.

Every aspect of the Duke's outstanding career is represented in his papers, and therefore they form a unique historical source for knowledge of the period. His own letters and memoranda are a testimony to his energy, his mastery of detail, clarity of thought and dedication to duty, not to mention what has endeared him to subsequent generations, his unique forcefulness of expression.

So many expressions have passed into general usage and general knowledge which can be associated with the Duke. One of the best known is the famous phrase "Publish and be damned". Also, it was the Duke who paid that tribute to the British soldier that nobody would dare to pay in such terms today when he said he was the scum of the earth. Although he was a rather reluctant, lukewarm alumnus of Eton, it was he who informed succeeding generations that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton". One day when he was accosted during a walk in the park and asked whether he was Mr. Jones he replied: If you believe that you will believe anything. He also made a famous remark on the occasion of marriage I have always believed that marriage should be as cheerful as the circumstances allow. Also many a marriage would have been enlivened by his reference to Queen Caroline May all your wives be like her. I conclude my remembrance of the Duke's remarks with the advice that he gave to a new Member of Parliament. He said: Don't quote Latin, say what you have to say and then sit down. That is good advice, but I certainly have never been able to follow it, unlike my hon. Friend.

This unique collection is now in the possession of the nation. There has been an investment from the national land fund of £372,600—one of the better investments from that fund. If any collection is accepted in payment, either in whole or part, for tax liabilities, the Government must satisfy themselves that the items in question are pre-eminent for national, artistic, scientific or historic interest. There is no doubt that the Wellington papers are truly pre-eminent in this sense, and I am delighted that they have been acknowledged as such.

I now have to consider, as Minister with responsibility for the arts and libraries, which institution is appropriate in all the circumstances to take these papers into its care. The decision of allocation is essentially ministerial. In order to reach the best decision the Minister must take account of all relevant circumstances, and to do so he must have access to expert, authoritative and impartial advice. Therefore, in this matter I shall follow the lines of established procedure. The procedure followed is essentially the same whether the items concerned are art objects, documents or manuscripts. For art objects the Minister receives advice from the Standing Committee on Museums and Galleries. That would not be an appropriate body to advise on manuscripts.

As a source of expert advice on the allocation of manuscripts I am, fortunately, able to call upon the Royal Commission on historical manuscripts under the learned chairmanship of the Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning. This distinguished body has the central function of identifying and recording all the surviving collections of papers that are of value for the study of history outside the public records and of ensuring their suitable protection against loss or dispersal. That is its day-by-day business. In cases such as the Wellington papers, however, it is, I believe, the ideal body to advise me.

The Royal Commission will, therefore, consider the names of all institutions interested in acquiring the papers and advise which one it thinks is the most suitable. In tendering its advice, the Commission will take into account a number of factors. Among the points to be considered will be these: first, what is the most appropriate home for the papers, bearing in mind the national interest and the nature of the collection? Secondly, to what extent do the existing holdings, resources and associations of each of the interested institutions have a bearing on the issue, and are these important enough, in any one instance, to outweigh the claims of others?

I listened with great interest to the links between Southampton university and the Wellington family, which were outlined by my hon. Friend. Another factor to be considered is the ability of the various institutions to display the material to the public and also to make provision for scholars. The third consideration is security and the physical conditions that should be provided by each institution. The point of concern here includes the facilities available for storage, photography, cataloguing, repairs and, most important, conservation. The papers must be well cared for, and I have noted very carefully what my hon. Friend has to say in this regard.

The papers will be in trust for the nation. They are part of our heritage and must be accorded the protection that posterity is entitled to expect from us. The standards of care available must be fitting to this century and reflect our present-day knowledge of what is required for conservation and preservation.

Yet another point for the Commission to take into account will be the wishes of the executors, although, of course, these cannot be a binding consideration on the Minister. The modern habit of ignoring the wishes of testators and executors, if at all possible, does not commend itself to me. We have heard the arguments for the papers to go to Southampton university library. The university clearly has a good case and it has been excellently made by its eloquent supporter, my hon. Friend. Certainly that case must be given full and sympathetic consideration. The arts and related subject and national treasures should not, in my view, be concentrated entirely in the capital.

One of the policies that I intend to pursue as Minister with responsibility for the arts is to see that the regions get their fair share of our heritage. I note with interest the initiative taken by my distinguished predecessor Lord Eccles with regard to the railway museum, which is now happily housed in York where it has become one of the great attractions in the North of England. Previously that museum was here in the capital.

I also know that the university has already laid its case before the Commission, and that is the right course for it to follow. I think that we can take it that the Commission will not be unaware of what has passed in this House today. However, I reflect on my own remark, made somewhat ruefully, that if one wants to keep a secret, the best place to tell it is on the Floor of this House because the Press Gallery is not always as full as it might be.

I find it a most heartening feature that the university library of Southampton should have shown such initiative and keenness to secure the allocation of the Wellington papers. I am pleased because I believe that the enthusiasm displayed by the university is an accurate reflection of a growing interest in and concern about the future of our national heritage. People everywhere, not only experts but ordinary citizens, share this concern, and I believe that it is widespread throughout the country. I see it as one of the challenges of the office that I occupy to reflect this feeling, to give a lead to it, and to offer it constructive encouragement. It is, in my view, one of the most heartening developments of the present day.

We must keep in mind the fact that there are other claimants to the papers, besides Southampton. It is true that the Commission will wish to be impartial in its assessment of the claims of the various applicants. When the Commission has done so and reached an agreed view, it will tender its advice to me. I gather that this will not be for another month or so, and I am sure that in a matter of this importance it is wise not to go too far. If I may ignore once again the great Duke's advice, festina lente.

My hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot anticipate either the Commission's advice or my own eventual decision, and he would not expect me to do so. At this stage I am not in a position to say what either of these may be, but may I make clear to my hon. Friend that the eventual decision is definitely one that I shall take myself. I greatly value the advice given me by the various advisory bodies which are set up in these matters, but I do not take the view—and it would be inaccurate and unconstitutional to do so—that the advice given me by an advisory body is binding. It is true that such advice must be given its due weight and that it would be foolish to ignore or underestimate it. However, the ultimate decision is a ministerial one, and I must take into account not only the advice of any relevant Commission but other considerations, including speeches such as that delivered by my hon. Friend in this debate. I must bear all those matters in mind when finally I reach my decision on the matter.

I conclude by thanking my hon. Friend for taking the trouble to raise this subject this afternoon. I am sure that his action can do nothing but good. I shall do my best to reach the right decision in a reasonably short space of time when the Commission has reported and there is time to consider all the factors involved.

Photo of Mr James Hill Mr James Hill , Southampton, Test

With the leave of the House. I should like to thank my right hon. Friend for his consideration and for the interesting quotations that he gave. One that he did not mention was that applied to the British soldier: I don't know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they terrify me. My right hon. Friend has not frightened me today. He has encouraged Southampton university library and myself to think that our plea has not fallen on deaf ears.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes to Four o'clock.