Mappa Mundi

Oral Answers to Questions — The Arts – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th December 1988.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 12:00 am, 5th December 1988

To ask the Minister for the Arts if he has any plans to take action to ensure that the Mappa Mundi is retained by Hereford cathedral for public display in Hereford; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

I am keeping in close touch with developments. In particular, I note that Hereford city council has taken a positive approach to the problem of the potential sale of the Mappa Mundi. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), in his capacity as chairman of the all-party heritage committee, has had an informal meeting with the dean of Hereford, Lord Charteris, chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Lord Gowrie, chairman of Sotheby's, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd), who I know is playing a constructive role in all this. I now understand that the dean and chapter of Hereford cathedral have met today to consider the situation. In the light of all this, I hope that it will be possible to find a solution acceptable to all the parties.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

As a Herefordian, may I ask the Minister whether he will confirm that less than an hour ago the dean and chapter decided that until the matter is resolved they have no plans to revoke the decision to sell? In that event, what is needed from the Minister is a clear announcement that the Government support the retention of the Mappa Mundi in Hereford. They must say that they will work with the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the British Library to ensure that the moneys are forthcoming and that no stone will be left unturned to ensure that the map returns to where it was created and where it belongs. The Government must ensure that the heritage of our cathedrals is not sold off through auction rooms to the highest bidders no matter where they might be in the world.

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

I have yet to learn precisely what was discussed today by the dean and chapter. I have no shadow of doubt about the importance of this object to our heritage and the importance that the people of Hereford, let alone the cathedral authorities, attach to it. I recognise that fully. The chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund has already said that he would be prepared, because he has taxpayers' money at his disposal, to consider playing a role on behalf of the taxpayer, but I draw the attention of the House to the fact that all past experience and practice in this sector have shown that where an object deserves retention in this country the most sensible basis for a solution is an effective partnership between the public and the private sectors, and one that is acceptable to all parties. I will do whatever I can to help reach an effective solution along those lines.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

The close interest that my right hon. Friend is taking in this matter will be well received in Hereford, and on a far broader basis than that, because this is an important matter. I am not aware of the outcome of today's meeting of the Hereford chapter, but if the dean and chapter seek a meeting with my right hon. Friend. will he respond favourably to requests from me to arrange such a meeting?

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

I acknowledge the role that my hon. Friend is playing in all this. If the dean and chapter ask for a meeting I shall he happy to meet them and to hear their viewpoint.

Photo of Mr Robert Sheldon Mr Robert Sheldon Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

Is it not time to define certain treasures which must not be sold abroad, whatever the circumstances, by people who simply want to raise money? Italy and other countries with considerable treasures do better than we do in this respect by preventing the export of certain treasures. Should we not define certain categories to fit into that?

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

Each European country has a different procedure to deal with this matter. Italy places an almost total ban on the export of nearly all objects of heritage importance. I am not sure that I believe that to be the right way to proceed. We have to preserve the ability of people to sell their own objects, to preserve an element of market forces in all this, and to allow trade across national boundaries. History shows that in the past 200 years the number of objects that we have imported is a factor to be taken into account. Against that, it is important that we have procedures which allow us to preserve heritage items of the greatest importance. For that reason, it is important that we have in existence the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which has substantial amounts of taxpayers' money at its disposal to help in this direction.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , South Staffordshire

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it was clear, not only from the meeting that we held last week, to which he referred, but from conversations that I had yesterday and today with Lord Charteris and the chapter clerk, that everyone concerned is desperately anxious to see a solution which leaves the map in Hereford cathedral, but also does something to help the cathedral's real problems? Is not Lord Charteris in an extremely difficult position while the map remains on offer? Would it not be exceptionally helpful if, accepting the real desire to help, the dean and chapter would withdraw the map from public auction, at least for the time being?

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

I am grateful for the constructive role that my hon. Friend is playing in this, with all his knowledge of these issues. I must leave it to the judgment of Lord Charteris, as chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund. What is the point of establishing such bodies unless I take their advice? If I were to ignore their advice, that would be wrong. I have no shadow of doubt that it is important to preserve the Nappa Mundi in this country —it is an important object of art and it is also important to the people of Hereford—and I shall play a prominent role in helping to achieve just that.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher , Stoke-on-Trent Central

The House will have heard the Minister's fine words, but will he respond to the very moderate and constructive remarks made by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack)? If he fails to do that, and in the light of his reply to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), the House will have no alternative but to realise that the Government are introducing market forces even into this area of policy. The House will consider that a disgrace.

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

I cannot see how the hon. Gentleman can make that deduction from my remarks about the Mappa Mundi and its importance. I have no difficulty saying that I hope that a solution can be found that will lead to the map's withdrawal from auction on the market. It is important to preserve the map in this country and all parties concerned must work to that end. I have already pledged to do my best in that direction.