The government has rejected calls for a review into the National Trust after MPs criticised the charity for researching its properties’ links to slavery.
In a parliamentary debate yesterday about the future of the National Trust, Andrew Murrison, the Conservative MP for South West Wiltshire, criticised the charity over what he said was a “dramatic change in direction”.
Murrison questioned whether the charity intended to permanently close some of its smaller properties and criticised its publication of a “plain shoddy” document about links to colonialism and slavery at the properties it manages.
He said National Trust properties “stand as silent witness to an unequal past”.
He said: “We do not need to be force-fed that by the trust’s high command; it is there and it is in your face.
“It is also plain to most visitors that the wealth required to throw up those mini-palaces did not often come from a Post Office savings account.”
Murrison claimed that the trust’s slavery and colonialism report “diminishes towering figures in British history”, including Winston Churchill.
“The trust speaks of context, but where is the context for a man who, more than any other, stood against fascism, racism and antisemitism?
“The best that could be said of that piece of work is that it is plain shoddy. Otherwise, we are left to conclude that it is indicative of the trust’s corporate mindset.”
Murrison concluded by calling for an independent review into the trust.
Nigel Huddleston, the heritage minister, said the way the trust carried out the review into historic houses was “unfortunate”.
He said: “I accept that the trust did not intend to cause offence, but we must acknowledge that, for many people, it did cause offence. The trust must reflect on that and learn from it.”
But he said the charity, which was created by the National Trust Act 1907, was an independent body and that calls for a government commission was “not a realistic idea”.
He said: “For over a century, the trust has focused on preserving and curating our great historic houses, gardens and landscapes for the nation. That is what it should focus on during the next century, too.”
Kevin Brennan, the Labour MP for Cardiff West and a former charities minister, questioned what was wrong with the National Trust researching the history of the buildings it looks after and queried whether the charity should be subjected to a “witch hunt” by the Charity Commission.
Sir John Hayes, the Conservative MP for South Holland and The Deepings, said the National Trust was “beginning to lose credibility, frankly, both with its membership and the public, because of misunderstandings about its purpose”.
After the debate, a National Trust spokesperson said the charity welcomed Murrison’s comments that it should remain a politics-free space.
"As a charity, the National Trust is independent of government and receives no direct funding,” the spokesperson said.
“It is entirely appropriate that there should remain a divide between politics and the charitable sector. This allows charities the freedom to serve [their] members and society more broadly.
"We will take on board all the helpful comments made by MPs at the debate and continue to focus our efforts on welcoming members, visitors and families back to the places in our care."