House of Lords: Display of Historical Documents

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 22nd June 2004.

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Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 2:30 pm, 22nd June 2004

asked the Chairman of Committees:

What is being done to ensure that original documents which highlight United Kingdom constitutional history continue to be displayed in the House for the benefit of Members and visitors.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, original documents of constitutional significance will continue to be displayed in the Royal Gallery. But, on expert advice, the Administration and Works Sub-Committee agreed in 2002 that exhibits should be changed regularly to prevent their deterioration from overexposure to light. The Record Office now has a three-month cycle for displays, which are designed to use the rich and diverse content of the archives to engage visitors with the work of Parliament.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer because it confirms that we will continue to see original documents displayed in this House. But does he agree that many people take a lot of pride in the history and development of Parliament? They would like to see more original documents displayed, including such landmarks as Catholic emancipation, abolition of slavery, votes for women and perhaps even House of Lords reform some time in the future. Will he therefore encourage more Peers and staff to make contact and to visit our excellent Record Office and, perhaps, also make suggestions for documents to be displayed?

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, I endorse the noble Earl's comments about the pride of this House in the history of Parliament and our constitutional landmarks. The plan to change the displays regularly will help to preserve key documents and enable a wider variety of original records to be shown than ever before. Perhaps House of Lords reform will, one of these days, be among them—who knows?

On the second point made by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, the Clerk of the Records is keen to encourage Members and staff to visit the Record Office and welcomes suggestions for future document displays.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Works of Art Committee in this House. Does the noble Lord agree that there is not time or space for the many large parties of children and adults to examine documents in the display case? In the old display case, one of the items of main interest was the death warrant of King Charles I, which, sadly, is deteriorating. Temporarily, a replica will be on display. People also like very much to see the signatories of all the monarchs, which are most interesting. Items that are easy to look at in a display case are a practical solution, but that has nothing to do with the fact that documents of public interest should be available.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that question. The old display case was unsatisfactory. It was made of oak which, apparently, gives off a noxious substance that is damaging to original documents. We have had the benefit of advice from an expert adviser from the British Library in that respect.

The death warrant of Charles I had been on continuous public display for around 150 years. Expert advice is that documents of that nature should be displayed for only three months at a time. Therefore, we have really behaved rather badly in the past. Signs of fading were starting to appear. It is essential that that document should be preserved in suitable repository conditions or it would fade irretrievably. It will probably be displayed occasionally, but not for long periods. The new display case, which has temperature and humidity control, will be better. Nevertheless, it is not right that such documents should be continuously displayed in light.

Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Labour

My Lords, as the noble Lord said, historic documents displayed in the Royal Gallery were kept in a lovely Pugin-style display case which was completely appropriate for the gallery. That has now been replaced by a ghastly metal contraption which is gunmetal grey-green in colour. It is extremely difficult to see that as appropriate for the Royal Gallery. Why is that?

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, I am afraid to disillusion the noble Lord, Lord Carter, but, as I mentioned in my response to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, the oak display cabinet was completely unsuitable. The relevant British standard for this specifically recommends against oak and other materials which emit vapours harmful to documents. If the noble Lord has a criticism of the new display case in the Royal Gallery, whose design, colour and site were approved in 2003 by the Administration and Works Committee and, I believe, by the Works of Art Committee, he should consult those bodies. As I mentioned in my last reply, the new display case has considerable advantages in terms of humidity and light.

Photo of Viscount Falkland Viscount Falkland Shadow Minister (Culture, Media & Sport (Lords)), Culture, Media & Sport

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on conveying what is, overall, a very sensible solution to a delicate problem. However, will he bear in mind that those of us who for a number of years have been taking parties and individuals around the Palace of Westminster, many of whom come from foreign countries and have a deep interest in our history, feel that there is nothing better than to show our guests articles and places of real historic interest within this impressive Victorian structure? As long as that is borne in mind, we shall achieve what most visitors to this excellent Palace expect.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

Yes, my Lords; indeed, I hope that my answers have indicated that that is the case. However, I should say in regard to the death warrant of King Charles I that a facsimile is being made at the moment which will be put on display. I would bet that most visitors will be unable to tell the difference.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Croy Lord Campbell of Croy Conservative

My Lords, do the documents include some of those concerning the union between Scotland and England in the reign of Queen Anne?

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, the Articles of Union between England and Scotland of 1706 were indeed displayed. Those are documents like the death warrant of King Charles I which should not be kept on continuous display because of the likelihood of deterioration. Therefore they have been taken away and placed in proper, safe and secure conditions. However, I would strongly suspect that the 300th anniversary of the union with Scotland in two years' time would be a very suitable moment for the Articles of Union again to be displayed, although probably not for more than three months at a time.

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Liberal Democrat

My Lords, first, does the noble Lord agree that the aromas of oak are better when surrounding French wine? Secondly, can he assist the House by giving us some idea of what items are likely to be included in the display in the near future?

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord has asked me that question. The displays in the Royal Gallery cabinet are due to be changed later this week. One display will feature Parliament during the Second World War, building on public and media interest in the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings and examining the effect of the war on Parliament. A second display will feature the longest original Act of Parliament on a continuous vellum roll, the Land Tax Act 1821, which has never before been displayed. If this Act were to be unrolled, it would stretch over 382 yards, or considerably longer than the entire Palace of Westminster, which is 291 yards long.