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Lord Luke: My Lords, we are all most grateful to my noble friend for initiating this debate. It has been absolutely fascinating and also a very educational experience, at least for me and I expect for all your Lordships. These stories of tremendous achievement will be of immense value to everyone in Great Britain and Ireland and those who live in the old empire.
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We have heard contributions from a very distinguished band of colleagues, and I must say that the debate has been a typical example of what this House does so well. We on these Benches strongly support my noble friend's suggestion to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills that booklets concerning this project should be sent to all schools, teacher training colleges and universities in our country. It would also be an excellent idea if the department would consider financing the first year's connection to the Internet for all secondary schools. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about that. As my noble friend said, such action would go some way towards refuting the Government's rather dubious reputation for being indifferent to history and its teaching.
One must applaud the editorial team most strongly for continuing the theme of the original Oxford Dictionary of National Biographywe have heard much today about how very interesting it isand initially deciding that it was too valuable to discard completely. The new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography will stand as a testament both to their hard work and to the achievement of those who worked on the original dictionary. It will be a roll-call of not just the great and the good but an inclusive range of personalities, male and female, from the United Kingdom, Ireland, the British Empire and of the various races who have helped to shape our nations into what they are today.
When reading the criteria for inclusion"residents in our countries or colonies"I suddenly wondered whether Napoleon would be included. He was one of our greatest enemies but he certainly qualified as a resident in one of our colonies for the last six years of his life. So no doubt John Peel and John Crippen were included.
The trouble with history is that historians often do not agree concerning events, let alone individuals. Was King Alfred a good cook? Did Robert the Bruce really watch a spider walking up the wall? Was Richard II indeed responsible for the murder of King Edward V and Prince Richard of Warwick?
Debunking famous lives is a very active industry; indeed, the more famous the individual, the more diverse and divergent are the views concerning that person's life. So I hope that at least some of the articles will solve some of the contentious views concerning our ancestors. The 23,000 words concerning a certain Welsh Prime Minister will possibly not solve all the contentious views about him, but I look forward to reading the entry at some stage.
We all use the phrase that so and so must be "turning in his or her grave" at the state of affairs of such and such a situation. As generation succeeds generation,
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the older ones always think that the young entry have gone to pot. So it would be fascinating if one could somehow consult our illustrious forebears on contentious issues. Unfortunately, or fortunately, that is not possible, so we have the next best thing in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
One of the aspects of the project that particularly interests meas well as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falklandis the obviously great effort made to find likenesses of subjects and the extraordinary success, considering the breadth of the years covered by the dictionary, of including the likeness of no fewer than one in five. One must congratulate the National Portrait Gallery in particular on successfully finding such likenesses, not only within its own portals, but from other museums, galleries and, probably, private collections.
I am surprised that my noble friend did not mention the new All-Party Group on Political Art, which he so authoritatively addressed when he showed us a wonderful collection of caricatures of sovereigns of the past 250-odd years. I hope that some caricatures have been included in the likenesses, where appropriate, because, however unkind they may often be, they have a strong tendency to give a very true representation of someone's personality.
This dictionary is an ideal subject for electrical incorporation, and I am delighted that it will be available online. I shall also be strongly in favour of the purchase of a copy by our Library, and the House of Commons Library should certainly buy it.
It is right that no live person is included. Otherwise there would be endless bickering about who was included, who was not and who should have been. No doubt, an extra volume at least would have been needed to cover so many of your Lordships.
I would love to be able to afford to buy the dictionary and to have the time to read it. To be present and to take part in this debate has been a salutary experience. I look forward, as always, to hearing what the Minister has to say.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey): My Lords, I join all those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Baker, on introducing the debate. I am not someone who tends to introduce my speeches by saying how wonderful the standard of debate is in your Lordships' House. But, as the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, rightly observed, I have been kept enthralled by today's debate.
I started by wondering about what a collective noun for biographers might be since we have so many distinguished biographers with us. I first thought
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about a "bench" or a "shelf" of biographers. But I realised that in the present company the proper collective noun is a "treasury" of biographers. We treasure them and we hope that they will continue to provide us with intellectual and aesthetic pleasure.
Of course it is correct for the noble Lord, Lord Baker, to challenge the Government to welcome the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. I do so with all my heart. It has already been pointed out that there has been funding from the Department for Education and Science through the British Academy. There seems to be some disagreement between my noble friend Lord Morgan who thinks that it was £3 million and the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, who thinks that it was £4 million; but there may be some explanation of that.
Lord Morgan: My Lords, just to clear that up. I think that I am correct in saying that the Government provided £3 million and the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, said that the British Academy supplied the extra £1 million from other sources.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the record will no doubt determine that without further intervention from me. Of course, the most substantial contribution has been from the Oxford University Press, which is to be congratulated both for its investment and, of course, for the almost incredible speed and efficiency with which the two editors have pursued the task over a remarkably short period to a successful and on-time outcome.
It is clearly important that the range of entries into the dictionary should have been extended. The old dictionary was not just, as has been said, short on women; it was also, as has been said, short on business. It was short on labour and trade union people; it was short on non-metropolitan and provincial people; it was short on people from the colonies; and it has also been short on people from the 20th century, although that has been corrected by supplementary volumes during the past century.
We now have something that is a credit to the Oxford University Press, a credit to all of the people who have taken part and a credit to those of us, collectively, who will enjoy it and will make use of it as the years go by. I confess that I am a regular user of the Concise Dictionary of National Biography, which has three volumes. I do not have the full volume at home, but I am led time after time from the very short entries in the concise dictionary to come into the House Library, the London Library or wherever I can get hold of it to consult the full volume. I hope that there will be a new concise edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography which will serve that purpose in
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the future. It certainly whets the appetite and would be appropriate for libraries and schools as well as for the rest of us.
I have said that the Department for Education and Skills made a financial contribution to the new dictionary, but I should say that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which I represent here, has had a substantial involvement. Reference has also been to the National Portrait Gallery. Since 1996 it has been involved in what is known as the Likenesses Project. The gallery has produced some 10,000 images for the 50,000 entries included in the dictionary. Half of those were taken from the gallery's own collection, while the other half have been gathered from no fewer than 1,500 other collections both here and in other countries. The contribution made by the National Portrait Gallery is very significant.
As regards libraries, what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, about access to the dictionary in schoolsa point I shall turn to shortlyapplies equally to libraries. A number of launch events have been arranged for the coming months, and at least two of those occasions will be held in librariesone in Norwich and one in Birmingham. I am glad that the publishers and editors at the Oxford University Press have been in contact with the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, which is our agent in these matters. I understand that there is good co-operation between them.
Turning to the field of the arts, the Arts Council is concerned not only with the visual, plastic arts, but also concerned very much with the written word. I am thinking, for example, about the work undertaken by the council in support of the Wordsworth Trust in the Lake District. That is evidence of the fact that biography and the written word are both close to the heart of that part of my department.
In the broader sense, the history of the people included in the national dictionary forms part of our heritage. I look upon the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as a community resource, just as I do our libraries, and note the link between the two. While it must be remembered that my department does not run or pay for libraries, I hope very much that it will be possible for many libraries to gain access to the dictionary.
Let me say a word about sales and online access. First, a discount of £1,000 is available from the publishers for early purchases made before the end of November this year. However, that is not relevant to libraries in this country. All of our libraries buy through purchasing arrangements. Deals struck with their own suppliers provide substantially higher discounts than would be available from any individual publisher. For example, Sunderland public libraries will be able to buy the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for £5,500, which is a discount of £2,000, from their ordinary suppliers. I understand that comparable arrangements are in place for schools.
I am also interested in the issue of online access, a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Briggs, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. Here I am glad to
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say that the Oxford University Press has been very co-operative. It is saying that, for libraries, a single subscription for a library authority will allow access from all the branch libraries in that authority. I cannot say what the subscription will be because it is on a graduated scale according to population, but clearly that is a very substantial encouragement for library authorities to pay for on-line access and to make it accessible in all branch libraries.
Indeed, in Wales they have gone a lot further. There is a deal which allows a whole range of Oxford University Press products to be available in Wales for a single subscription fee. Again, I do not know what the details are but I would hope that a deal of that kind could be extended to England and Scotland.
For schools, the situation is not quite as clear. The basic subscription would be £250 per year per school, but clearly there will be discounts for local education authorities which subscribe on behalf of a number of schools. That might get us into the position of individual schools being able to subscribe for substantially less than £200. Of course, if a future Conservative government were to abolish local education authorities, as they claim they will do, that discount would no longer be available.
I am not sure whether I am being asked for anything other than the moral support and practical support I have already described. I am not sure that I am being asked for a large launch party. The suggestion has been made that there should be a launch party run by the Royal Society and the British Academy. I am sure the Government would welcome that. I am not committing myself to any public expenditure on such an occasion, but I am certainly giving the moral support that is required.
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