I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
the future of Mentmore Towers and its outstanding collection.
It is not often that the House turns its attention to matters of importance to the Arts and the national heritage, but I suggest that this is an occasion when that rule can well be broken in the national interests.
Here we have one of the finest collections of works of art—indeed, an outstanding international collection—housed in one of the most remarkable creations of the nineteenth century, which its owner, Lord Rosebery, has offered to the nation. Unfortunately, however, up to now the Government have seen fit not to take advantage of this offer. The matter is urgent because Lord Rosebery's deadline, after which the arrangement for the sale will go ahead, is 5th April—Tuesday of next week.
During the last two or three days, various important developments have taken place. When the Government refused to accede to the requests by many of us that the resources of the Land Fund should be used for the acquisition of Mentmore Towers, a statement was made in the other place to the effect that if sufficient funds were made available from private sources the Government would willingly and happily reconsider their decision.
Nobody is questioning the good faith of the Government or their basic desire to acquire this national treasure. During the last few days offers have come forward of substantial sums from private sources, and the indications today—and I have made exhaustive inquiries about this—are that yet further sums could be on the way.
If that is the case, and I believe that it is—and I know that the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), who has interested himself greatly in this issue, would be able to substantiate this—it is something that should be debated in the House before 5th April.
It is a specific matter, to judge from all that I have said. It is obviously urgent, because of the deadline, and I believe that because of its importance to the national heritage this is a matter of public importance. I therefore ask you, Mr. Speaker, to give consideration to this request.
The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,
the future of Mentmore Towers and its outstanding collection".
I have listened carefully to the hon. Member, and my judgment is never an assessment of the importance of the issue, which nobody would deny.
As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take into account the several factors set out in the Standing Order, but to give no reasons for my decision. In fact, all that I have to decide is whether this business should take precedence over Monday's business, which has already been set out.
I fear that I have to rule that the hon. Member's submission does not fall within the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.