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Mr. Caborn: I do not think that that line of thinking should be taken with the British Library Board, because it would not get an especially good reception. If I may give a little advice, I suggest that it might be more useful to keep to the facts that my right hon. Friend presented in her contribution this evening.
The British Library Board cannot freely dispose of any artefacts within the collection to other countries or collections. It must secure those artefacts and items for successive generations. I think that most hon. Members would accept that the British Library is one of the pre-eminent libraries in the world. As my colleague, the Minister for the Arts, commented recently in another debate about cultural propertyunfortunately she cannot respond to this debate because she is on ministerial business in the Statessuch important works should be viewed within the context of institutions that have a powerful national, and international, reach.
The British Library Board has to preserve and interpret these as well as other outstanding works in its collection. This places on the board an important responsibility. However, the British Library can, and does, take other courses of action to ensure that access to the gospels is as wide as possible, particularly for those to whom they have particular significance, namely
In recent years, the British Library has made great efforts to bring the gospels, with its other treasures, to the attention of visitors to the British Library, both on-site and online. Since the opening of the St. Pancras site, the gospels have been on permanent display in the John Ritblat gallery of treasures from the collection, under stringently controlled conditions, and placed alongside other landmarks of literary and human achievement. Entry to the gallery is free and it is open seven days a week.
In April 2003, the library opened a new exhibition dedicated to the gospels, entitled "Painted LabyrinthThe world of the Lindisfarne Gospels". This displayed the gospels in the context of other eighth century artefacts. The exhibition was a huge success, both critically and in terms of visitor numbers. Alongside the exhibition, the British Library produced a virtual exhibition, accessible through its website. The virtual exhibition was also hugely popular. In addition, the library is well advanced in a project to produce an electronic facsimile of the gospels on CD-ROM.
British Library staff are also working closely with teachers in the north-east to produce gospels school packs and resource boxes. These are intended to be distributed to local schools, teaching children about the rich history of this unique part of the United Kingdom. The British Library has also been at the centre of development of innovative new technology to allow visitors, both on-site and online, unprecedented access to the library's treasures. Indeed, the development of the "Turning of the Pages" interactive digital display allows the visitor to look at, and turn each page virtually, allowing increased access and interpretation without in any way harming the manuscripts themselves.
The need to care for the collections must at all times be balanced against the need to provide access, and the British Library has actively sought to loan the gospels, when it can, to the north-east. However, due to their fragility, the gospels have been on loan only five times since entering the collection. Three of those have been to the north-east over the past 20 years. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, the most recent loan was to the Laing gallery in Newcastle in 2000.
In early 2003, the British Library made further moves to preserve the integrity of the gospels as works of art, while ensuring that they are made accessible in the north-east. The library entered into an agreement with Faksimile Verlag for the production of "state of the art", museum-quality, full-colour facsimiles. Part of this agreement was to provide two facsimiles to the north-eastone to Durham cathedral and the other to Holy Island, as my right hon. Friend said. A third facsimile is on a seven-month tour of the north-east. It has already visited Bede's World in Jarrow, Hartlepool museum and Hexham abbey. Today, I understand, it is
The decision of how to care for the gospels must be a matter for the British Library Board. I believe that the British Library has discharged its responsibility to make these treasures publicly available with imagination and determination, and has shown that such works can be
I understand the strong points that my right hon. Friend and others have made in this short debate and I hope that they will be put to the British Library Board. We will see the response to that, but I reiterate that overall responsibility rests with the British Library.