All 1 Matt Warman contributions to the British Library Board (Power to Borrow) Act 2021

Fri 12th Mar 2021
British Library Board (Power to Borrow) Bill
Commons Chamber

3rd reading & Report stage & Report stage & 3rd reading

British Library Board (Power to Borrow) Bill

Matt Warman Excerpts
3rd reading & Report stage
Friday 12th March 2021

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate British Library Board (Power to Borrow) Act 2021 - Private Members' Bill (Ballot Bill) Page Read Hansard Text
Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab) [V]
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I commend all those involved in the Bill. I will just say, on behalf of the Opposition, that we fully support it and agree with the comments just made by the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami).

Matt Warman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Matt Warman)
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I am pleased that we are at this point with the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami). As he said, it is absolutely the case that the Bill seeks solely to put the British Library on the level playing field that it deserves to be on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) raises two points. Putting an expiry date on the powers proposed in the Bill would risk taking up further parliamentary time, which we all know is valuable, but it would also entrench the inequality that we are trying to resolve. The idea that the British Library’s power to borrow would be subject to review when none of the other arm’s length bodies are subject to the same review does not seem to me to be in that spirit of fairness. Of course my hon. Friend raises entirely reasonable points about the burden on the public purse of any borrowing, but it seems to me only fair that we take that as a whole rather than trying to impose separate conditions on the British Library.

The British Library is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden said, absolutely enthusiastic about the powers that the Bill would give it, it is enthusiastic about the opportunity to use them, and it is enthusiastic about the practical developments that that might bring, be it broader access digitally to its own artefacts or broader engagement with the community. That is currently constrained by the inequality that we see today. That is not fair on the British Library, but more to the point, it is not fair on the British public. It is important that we try to address the legislative barrier that currently and inexplicably prevents the British Library from having the same freedom to borrow that its fellow national museums and galleries enjoy.

Operational freedoms introduced in 2013 have given our national cultural institutions, including the British Library, greater autonomy to make decisions independently and greater flexibility over their income, helping them to innovate and continue their expert work. Flexibility and innovation will be more important than ever as we recover from the effects of the pandemic.

The British Library is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch accepted, subject to a host of scrutiny already. The Bill does not propose to subject it to any greater scrutiny than exists already for other arm’s length bodies. While I agree with him that we should pay close attention to those conditions, I hope that he will agree that imposing further specific conditions on the British Library when we would like, I think, to have the efficiency of dealing with all arm’s length bodies as one is not a sensible approach. While I understand the sentiments behind his amendments, I hope—

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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My hon. Friend talks about the other arm’s length bodies. My understanding is that they have the power to carry over surpluses from one year to the next. Is that power now being made available to the British Library? Will the borrowing that it will be able to make under this power be out of the same capped fund that is available for the other departmental arm’s length bodies? Or will this be in addition? If so, how much will the addition be each year?

Matt Warman Portrait Matt Warman
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The Treasury allocates a pot of £60 million per year that can be loaned out to all cultural organisations given the freedoms I mentioned. The responsibility for allocating that pot is with the Treasury. To my knowledge, there is currently no proposal to change the size of that pot, but of course all of these things are under review in the usual way. On that point, and on my hon. Friend’s first one, I hope he understands that we are not proposing anything here that it is in any way unusual, and that this is putting the British Library on a fair and level playing field. Unless he wants to intervene again, I hope that that clarifies the points he has made. In the probing spirit that he mentions, I hope the Government have been able to provide him with sufficient information so that he does not press his amendments to a vote and he allows the British Library to flourish in a way that will benefit all of our constituencies.

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Matt Warman Portrait Matt Warman
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It is a great moment for libraries across the country to see the United Kingdom’s flagship British Library put on this level playing field. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) for getting his Bill this far. I thank him and all those who have worked on this Bill, and indeed all those who have scrutinised it in this House today.