British Authors: Archives

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 13th December 2005.

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Photo of Lord Harrison Lord Harrison Labour 2:30 pm, 13th December 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will take steps to ensure that the archives of major British authors are retained in the United Kingdom and are not acquired by overseas institutions.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the Government agree that it is important to find ways to ensure that archives of major British authors remain in the United Kingdom. A number of measures are already in place to help to achieve that. The British Library set up a working party under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury—who, unfortunately, cannot be in his place this afternoon—to look, among other things, at ways in which living authors can be encouraged to deposit their papers with UK public collections.

Photo of Lord Harrison Lord Harrison Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Will the Government stem the brain drain to American universities of the literary papers of living British authors by adopting the proposals made by my noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury, which would modify inheritance tax and capital gains tax and the acceptance of in-lieu-of-tax schemes to encourage British authors to leave or to sell their papers to British universities, therefore making them available to British academics and to the wider public?

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, my noble friend has asked and answered his Question. The committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Smith has discussed with the Treasury the possibility of extending to living authors tax incentives which currently are available to their estates only after their deaths. Last month, there was a meeting and apparently the Treasury needs convincing that this is an important area, as many noble Lords feel, and further discussions will take place with the DCMS, the Treasury and other interested parties such as the Society of Authors and the national art collection.

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Spokesperson in the Lords, Culture, Media & Sport

My Lords, the Minister mentions the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Smith. We all applaud the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and the Poet Laureate for raising the issue originally. Should not the DCMS show leadership in this area? After all, the 10-year rule of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the 50-year rule of the national export reviewing system both militate against purchases of such collections. There is also the Treasury. Is the DCMS making representations about VAT on loose manuscripts?

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that the DCMS is making representations on these matters to the Treasury. There is a very strong feeling that our most valued cultural tradition is our literary heritage and it is essential that we stem the flow of manuscripts from this country to American universities, which are paying huge amounts of money for them. The DCMS recognises that we have to do something about it and various significant groups in the literary scene in Britain are giving the DCMS their full support in its discussions with the Treasury. However, it has to be kept in the public eye.

Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art. Am I right in understanding from the Minister's reply that the DCMS is firmly of the conviction, which is also held by a majority of the Members of this House, that the present arrangements are unacceptable and that changes need to be introduced to safeguard these important documents?

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the fundamental problem is that many of the procedures in place to stop works of art and manuscripts leaving this country have a time limit. For example, documents have to be 50 years old. We are facing a new problem which is that young, living, British authors are selling their archives to American universities that are paying huge amounts of money for them. Our only hope is that, if the tax incentives are accepted, the gap between what an American university offers and what an author would get from, say, the British Library, would be narrower so the inclination of the author would be to give the material to a British institution.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that, given all the pressures on the budgets of universities and local authorities, it is extremely difficult for them to maintain archival services at an acceptable standard? Unless the Heritage Lottery Fund is able to sustain its contributions at least at the level of the past decade and to have the greater freedoms to which noble Lords have already referred, the prospect of acquiring important archives of major British authors is almost non-existent. Will my noble friend reassure the House that the Government have no serious plans to raid the resources of the Heritage Lottery Fund?

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the Government have no plans to raid the Heritage Lottery Fund. In the years 1999-2004, the Heritage Lottery Fund provided more than £34 million to archive projects. The will is there; for example, the National Archives received £38 million direct from the Government in the past financial year. It is a question of making sure that everyone realises that there is a new problem to deal with, which is the problem of living authors selling their archival material to American universities.

Photo of Lord Mowbray and Stourton Lord Mowbray and Stourton Conservative

My Lords, I speak as a member of the Roxburghe Club. While the Government are considering this matter, will they bear in mind the efforts made between the two wars by Colonel Isham, a United States citizen who acted for Yale University, to rout out the Boswell manuscripts which were scattered throughout England, Scotland and, particularly, Ireland? After he got them to Yale, they were published beautifully by the British firm of Heinemann. The Boswell collection, one of the best in the world, is now published in England thanks to the help of Colonel Isham and Yale.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. Many American universities have acquired material for a lot of money and have done a wonderful job in cataloguing and displaying it. However, we are left with the general problem that it is not good for our cultural heritage for so much of this wonderful material to go across the Atlantic.