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Lord Teviot: I want to speak to Amendment No. 453, which deals with a different subject from that addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. It relates to the subject of archives. I must declare an interest in that I have been involved in archives for about 30 years.
The purpose of this short and simple amendment is to ensure that archive services have a firm place in the mayor's cultural strategy. As presently constituted, Clause 301 recognises library and museum services as an essential part of the mayor's cultural strategy, but says nothing about archives. We are all aware of the great importance of libraries and museums, but the value of the library book and the museum exhibit depends firmly on the research which is possible only through a ready access to original historical records. Archives are less visible and obvious to the wider public than libraries or museums, but that belies their fundamental importance to well based historical research.
Indeed, at this very time the national curriculum is placing considerable emphasis on the hands-on use by school students of primary source material. Yet the availability of material at local level across the London boroughs varies from the well resourced and well managed, through the under-resourced but reasonably well managed, to the absolutely pitiful and virtually non-existent.
The situation in London is that there is one very good overall London archive repository, the equivalent of the county record office, in the London Metropolitan Archives, formerly known as the Greater London Record Office. It has been run by the Corporation of London since 1986 and provides a good service as well as original archives in the Guildhall Library. The London Metropolitan Archives perform the important function of looking after the records of London-wide government bodies such as the London County Council
However, it is totally impossible for the London Metropolitan Archives to meet all of London's archive needs, especially at local level. It is not resourced to do so and would not regard it as being within its remit. The preservation and accessibility of local records is the responsibility of the London boroughs. Under the Local Government Act 1972, each London borough is statutorily responsible for its own records, but these duties are expressed in very general terms and in effect allow the extent of the duty to be defined by the authority concerned. In addition, under the Local Government (Records) Act 1962, all London authorities are empowered to make provision for archives and create local history collections, but the legislation is only permissive.
The inadequacy of the statutory provision is one of the main reasons why standards vary so much over the London boroughs. Of the 33 London local authorities, more than one-third have no professional archivist. That fact in itself speaks volumes. Some boroughs do not even make provision for access to the archives created by the local authority itself, much less make provision to take in and make accessible the records of local institutions, businesses and individuals. Organisations creating historic records of local significance experience considerable difficulty in seeking to deposit records in London, as some boroughs are unable to receive collections of important archive material.
In those authorities which choose to take an active role both in the care of their own archives and the provision of centres for local studies, these facilities are much used and appreciated by local people. Even then, they are frequently under-resourced and even those authorities which provide a relatively good service are closed on some days of the week.
What London needs is an even standard provision of archive services across the metropolis. To meet the standards laid down by the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts for the storage and custody of records, access to them and reasonable opening hours does not entail any great expense.
The mayor, in publishing and implementing his or her strategy, will be uniquely well placed to take the lead in stimulating and encouraging those boroughs which are responding to the challenge of providing a suitable archive service, co-ordinating borough services, encouraging the development of centres of excellence and naming and shaming those who lag behind the rest. The proposed short amendment will mean that archives cannot be swept under the strategy carpet, and its general terms means that the mayor's strategy could take account of archives in the private as well as the local government sector.
Some 19 years ago, I proposed an amendment in your Lordships' House to the then National Heritage Bill to add "record repositories" to museums and galleries as eligible recipients for grants. I was told by the spokesman for the government of the day, who was none other than my noble friend Lord Mowbray and
It was therefore with some amusement that I noted the response of a Minister of the present Government, Mr Nick Raynsford, to an amendment similar to the one I am proposing today, which was moved during the Committee stage of the present Bill in the other place by my right honourable friend Mr Peter Brooke who, as your Lordships will know is the Member for the City of London and Westminster and who made a most interesting and comprehensive speech which I recommend to those who wish to extend their knowledge of the subject. In rejecting the amendment, the Minister cautioned about adding to a list which, he said, was in any case meant to be illustrative. He said:
I was even more amused to notice that immediately after the exchange over this amendment in Committee, another Minister, Miss Glenda Jackson, moved, as an addition to the Bill, the present Clause 302 which states that the new authority may pay grants for the purposes of any museum, gallery, library, archive or other cultural institution. I cannot understand why it should be necessary to single out archives in this clause but not in the previous clause.
However, I ask the Minister to consider that by accepting the amendment he would be advancing the Government's policy as recently announced in A New Cultural Framework issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. That publication recognises the importance of archives alongside the libraries and museums in the decision to create the museums, libraries and archives council in the planned regional consortia.
The Minister said that lists are intended to be illustrative and not inclusive. However, I have to say that I find that rather ingenuous. Any list will inevitably highlight what is listed and will do so at the expense of what is not.
A point worth mentioning concerns specialist archives such as film archives. There are significant film archives at Southwark and Bermondsey. One of the functions which the National Film Archive at the BFI has taken on is to help place archives within the regions, as regions have become more conscious of and interested in their own history. I do not think that archives in general fit into the list in subsection (5). One certainly would not automatically think of film archives. One might if archives were separately listed. Many perceive cine film as representing the most significant documentation of the 20th century.
My other point concerns access. If the Government are serious about access to museums, they should also think in terms of raising the profile of activities which have traditionally been considered "backroom activities", such as archival research, whether carried out by museum staff or members of the public. The British Museum, for example, has an important archive department.
The Minister may well point out that archives such as those are covered by museums, but that is the point. They are covered; that is, hidden. The question of relationship between access and profile is an important one which in itself justifies the separate listing of archives.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: From what has been said by the Government Front Bench so far, it will be difficult for the mayor to exceed his powers as the Bill is so widely drawn with so little detail in that respect. On the other hand, there are some areas where it is important to be more precise. The House, when it meets on Report, might well want to add to Clause 301(5) because that is necessary.
As regards archives, I suggest that they are not like any other contents of museums. Many archives are carefully kept in special places under special conditions. Any vagueness as to where they are may mean that they will disappear, or disappear from view. It is crucial that the Bill should be clear about what the mayor can do in that respect and, if necessary, what he cannot do about archives which are elsewhere within the city.
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