HC Deb 21 April 1980 vol 983 cc25-7
22. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on the progress made in the setting up of the National Heritage Fund trustees; and where their headquarters are likely to be.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St John-Stevas)

The appointment of Lord Charteris as chairman of the trustees was announced on 16 April. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be announcing the names of other trustees in the very near future. The choice of their headquarters is a matter for the trustees themselves to decide.

Mr. Dalyell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at the council meeting of the National Trust for Scotland on Friday a wide welcome was given to the appointment of Martin Charteris? On the basis of only one long conversation with him, when he was the Queen's private secretary, and his active role during proceedings on the National Heritage Bill, I believe that he is an extremely good choice. May I express the hope that the trust decides to set up not on the sixteenth floor of some convenient building but in a building where restoration work can be done and an example set?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

On behalf of Lord Charteris, I am extremely grateful for the hon. Member's kind words. On behalf of myself, I am also grateful, and I am sure I speak also for the Prime Minister when I say that she will be delighted that her appointment has commanded the hon. Member's support.

The question of the building is a matter for the trustees, but I entirely agree with the hon. Member. We do not want to see them in some hideous tower block. It would be appropriate for them to have their headquarters in a building of historic interest and aesthetic worth.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

May I also join in congratulating the Government on appointing Lord Charteris as the chairman? Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of Lord Charteris to the importance of the documents and manuscripts held up and down the country by county council muniment rooms and other organisations? There is a great danger that these documents, which are so important to scholars, might be lost. Already, the Warwickshire documents have been sold to the United States, and certainly in my county of Staffordshire we believe that these manuscripts should be protected.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his congratulations. I shall certainly draw the attention of Lord Charteris to his points. Documents are just as much a part of the national heritage as buildings and objects.

Mr. Faulds

Ditto, ditto in relation to Lord Charteris. Has the right hon. Gentleman drawn the Prime Minister's attention to the fact that since the starting date for the National Heritage Fund on 1 April, £126,000 has so far been lost and that for every day's delay in the announcement of the names of the trustees another £6,000 is lost? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that is the price of an important painting? When can we have the announcement of the names of these trustees?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As I have indicated, the Prime Minister is considering the matter and an announcement is imminent. Changes were made for the arrangements for the appointment of trustees at a very late stage in the National Heritage Bill, as the hon. Gentleman will know, although he was unable, due to indisposition, to be present on that occasion.

I thank the hon. Member for his congratulations. Never in my 20 years in Parliament have I been greeted with such universal acclaim.

Mr. Cormack

May I associate myself with the congratulations of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) on the appointment of the Provost of Eton to be chairman of the trustees? May I urge my right hon. Friend to urge the Prime Minister to consider as a matter of the utmost urgency the comments made by the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds)? It is of the utmost importance that these trustees should be able to function within the next 10 days.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly pass on that remark to my right hon. Friend. I thank my hon. Friend for his encomium, which I add to the enormous bouquet that has been presented to me today from all parts of the House.

Mr. English

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker——

Mr. Speaker

Will the hon. Member wait just two minutes?