National and Historic Treasures

Oral Answers to Questions — Church Commissioners – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th November 1988.

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Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford 12:00 am, 28th November 1988

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, if the Church Commissioners have any plans to seek responsibilities in respect of treasures of national and historic significance held in cathedrals in England.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Selby

No, Sir. This is a matter for the cathedrals. However, the General Synod has recently given general approval to a draft Care of Cathedrals Measure which makes certain provisions in this area.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the citizens of Hereford and the people of the Hereford diocese are absolutely devastated at the prospects facing the Mappa Mundi and Hereford cathedral? Is he aware that although the Care of Cathedrals Measure does in some way set out a mechanism for exercising a veto on moves such as are contemplated by the dean and chapter of Hereford, it in no way constitutes a constructive proposal for solving such problems? Does he not feel that the Church Commissioners have a positive input to make at least in establishing the mechanisms by which deans and chapters of cathedrals under threat may realise as much as possible of their assets without selling them—that is, by getting into marketing?

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Selby

My hon. Friend knows that the Church Commissioners have no direct responsibility for the maintenance of cathedrals other than through the considerable grants given for the stipends of certain cathedral staff. My hon. Friend also knows that the controversy and publicity over the Mappa Mundi, which the Archbishop of Canterbury has said would be a severe loss to the nation and the cathedral, will generate considerable charitable thought or support. For example, there may be support through the City livery companies, the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, possibly through the Royal Commision on Historical Manuscripts, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and other similar bodies. It is in that direction that the constructive moves that my hon. Friend has bespoken will materialise.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Will the right hon. Gentleman point out to the General Synod that if it alters the Care of Cathedrals Measure in January and passes an appropriate Measure, it could come to the House and be approved before the prospective sale of the Mappa Mundi by Sothebys in June? The General Synod and Parliament could act in time if the will was there and the Church Commissioners gave their backing.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Selby

What the hon. Gentleman said is true. However, he must not underestimate the controversy that might arise in the House if we were to start debating the fabric of cathedrals.