TONY BENN's archives - widely acknowledged as one of the best collections of 20th century political documents - will not be given to the British Library if plans to charge readers an annual fee go ahead.
The Labour MP for Chesterfield had planned to donate his papers - which include all his speeches since 1946, hundreds of Labour party documents, letters from other well-known post-war politicians, conference reports, press cuttings and the manuscript of his 12 million-word diary - to the British Library.
But proposals to charge the library's 100,000 readers pounds 300 or more for an annual ticket has horrified Mr Benn. "My papers haven't quite got to the point of being admitted to the British Library. I will only apply on the condition that everyone has access to my manuscripts."
Mr Benn chose to give his papers to the British Library rather than the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the Modern Records Centre in Warwick or the National Museum of Labour History in Manchester. He said he thought the proposal to charge readers was "terrible". "I am against the charges. For 254 years people have had access to the library and now they might have to pay."
The library, which has just opened its new pounds 250m premises in St Pancras, north London, has been free since it first opened its doors as the British Museum's library in the 18th century.
But this week it announced in a consultation document that it would have to introduce charges or make cuts to services unless the Government increased its annual pounds 80m grant by a further pounds 8m.
Dr Brian Lang, chief executive of the British Library, said he would be "very, very sad" and "very disappointed" if the former Cabinet minister were to decide to withdraw his offer.
"Tony Benn is one of the most interesting political personalities of the second half of the 20th century who played a particularly distinctive role in the British left. Any library which claims to have records of what has happened in the United Kingdom in the 20th century would have a substantial gain in Tony Benn's papers." Mr Benn, a member of the Friends of the British Library, says he thinks charges would have a "tremendous effect".
"It would really be a terrible thing if it had to charge readers. Access to books should be available to everyone," he said.
Tony Benn's papers, 13 boxes of which make up his political correspondence and diary alone, have been acknowledged as being of immense value to historians of 20th century government, industrial policy and the Labour party. …