All 1 Baroness Blackstone contributions to the British Library Board (Power to Borrow) Act 2021

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Fri 19th Mar 2021

British Library Board (Power to Borrow) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

British Library Board (Power to Borrow) Bill

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I was indeed the chair of the board of the British Library, so I declare that as an interest. Indeed, I was in the role in 2013 when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a four-year pilot package granting a number of freedoms, including the freedom to borrow, to the national museums and galleries following a report by Neil Mendoza—now the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza—which recommended these freedoms. As we have heard, they became permanent in 2015.

I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, ever sat at my feet; I think I actually sat at his when he was a Minister. I thank him very much for bringing into the House this Private Member’s Bill following the completion of its initial stages in the other place, where it received cross-party support. The exclusion of the BL in 2013 was, in my view, an anomaly, so I am really delighted that this is now rectified in this Bill by a small amendment to the British Library Act 1972. I am confident that it will have the same cross-party support here as it had in the other place.

I am very grateful for all the positive things the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, said about the BL, because he had more time; I have only three minutes. It is a great national institution. It is one of the largest and most influential national libraries in the world. Its vast collections are international, and through digitisation it is working to make some of its truly valuable collections, including rare manuscripts, available to readers around the world. It has made a start, but the amount of further work to be done is daunting.

I want to say just a bit about what it does in the UK. It runs a fantastic exhibition programme, which in recent years has ranged from a celebration of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta—which the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, will remember well—to Harry Potter. Its many exhibitions, small and large, have attracted thousands of visitors to the BL beyond its readers, who use the library and its collections to have the resources they need to carry out research.

The BL has also been innovative in spreading its services beyond the base at St Pancras through a network of business and intellectual property centres, as the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, mentioned. These provide invaluable advice for those wishing to start a small business, so as such it is a great aid to entrepreneurial drive in this country. As the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, mentioned, it is also developing an ambitious plan to develop British Library North, working with Leeds City Council and others to open and expand its base in Yorkshire as well as a new site in Leeds.

Giving the BL the power through the Bill to borrow, whether from the Government—who have a pool from which the national museums and galleries can borrow for agreed projects—or commercially, will allow the BL to introduce further innovations which it may not be able to fund from its grant in aid. These might include efficiency improvements to its estate, upgrading digital systems, which are so vital, or developing and expanding commercial products and services. Of course, it will be up to the library to make the case for such projects. I strongly commend the Bill and hope it will go through unamended.