British Library Centre for Conservation

– in the House of Lords on 16th October 2007.

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

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to support the British Library Centre for Conservation in maintaining its current standard as a training facility for book and audio conservators.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the Government have supported the conservation centre from the outset, providing more than £5 million of capital funding and significant and sustained grant allocations to support the library's ongoing activity. The library's board, which operates at arm's length, apportions that funding according to its priorities. I am sure that the board will see it as a priority throughout 2008-11 to build on the early achievements of this impressive new centre.

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

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Many of us, through the Turning the Pages programme in particular, will have had the privilege of seeing the British Library's work on matters such as digitisation. However, the Minister has not been very explicit about the CSR settlement, which is being discussed with the British Library today. What priorities for conservation are the Government laying down under the CSR for the British Library, and what support are they giving to the British Library itself?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the decisions on that are being taken today. However, the noble Lord will derive the utmost satisfaction from the fact that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport came out of the spending review exceedingly well and healthily and is therefore in a position to meet its significant commitments to sports, heritage and the arts. The British Library fits firmly within that framework, in circumstances which help it to make an excellent case for some of the resources that the department has won.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour

My Lords, will my noble friend congratulate the British Library on the way in which it combines the most ancient with the most modern of conservation techniques and on its commitment to ensuring that other professionals and members of the public who wish to do so have the opportunity to learn from it? Will he advise the House on how, following the spending review, the Government plan to carry forward some of the recommendations on science and conservation of the sub-committee of the Science and Technology Committee of this House, in particular the recommendation that the DCMS should appoint a chief scientific adviser?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

Certainly, my Lords. My noble friend, who chairs the UK Literary Heritage Working Group, speaks with great knowledge and interest in this area and I am pleased to reply to him that of course we intend to support the British Library as fully as possible. We also take a great interest in the work of this House's committee, which has produced some interesting proposals. The one which he identified with regard to the chief scientist is still being deliberated on and no decision has yet been reached, but the Government look upon the committee's report with favour.

Photo of Lord Quirk Lord Quirk Crossbench

My Lords, further to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, are Her Majesty's Government fully seized of the unique value of the dual role of the conservation centre both in conserving fragile books and in conserving fragile skills which are in more demand as the years go by? I declare an interest as a trustee of the Wolfson Foundation, which helped to build the centre in the first place.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord has identified a significant area. We are anxious about the decline in the number of people with the relevant skills and some of our key people are reaching retirement age. That is why we have concentrated on the establishment of two new courses on book conservation. I am pleased to say that enrolment on these courses and support for students are healthy. We are therefore addressing this question of the potential skills deficit that could have opened up if we had not taken such action.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, when I visited our archives as a member of the Information Committee, I saw that there was a special programme of bookbinding and preserving antique ways of doing things. Is there any connection between the British Library and our archives?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the British Library acts as a resource of help and support, as well as looking after its prime responsibility, which are the books in its ownership and control. The noble Baroness will recognise that this level of expertise is in relatively short supply, so it is important that we can respond where requests are made. I think that the House will rest assured that the position of our own records is reasonably satisfactory.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords, Innovation, Universities and Skills

My Lords, I declare an interest as having chaired the Science and Technology Committee inquiry on science and heritage. I would like to push the Minister a little further on the appointment of a chief scientist. When will the department release the report of Dr Michael Dixon? Do we have any idea when the appointment will be made?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to press me on this issue, as the report has been extant for a substantial number of months. We are working on this matter, but it is not simple. The issue is not delay of resources, which is the usual charge against the Government—people say that the Government are being dilatory because they are not prepared to allocate the resources. The delay is over the specification of the role, which is still the subject of considerable dispute. At this stage, I am not able to be any more affirmative than that.

Photo of Lord Luke Lord Luke Conservative

My Lords, we on these Benches support the work going on at the British Library, but is the Minister aware of an increasingly worrying shortage of trained conservators in other areas of the arts? What are the Government doing about that?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the Government are aware of that because they get the reports from the various bodies about their needs. My department is not exactly overflowing with milk and honey as a result of the Comprehensive Spending Review, but nevertheless it got a good settlement, which enables us to meet most of the legitimate demands on the budget. Where needs are accurately identified in such areas, as by the noble Lord, they will be addressed.