The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Matt Warman)
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—