February 7, 2015
Magna Carta freedoms ‘under threat’ today, MPs warned
The Telegraph, Thursday 5th February 2015
John Bingham, Social Affairs Editor
MPs were warned not to betray 800 years of progress towards freedom as the four surviving copies of Magna Carta were brought together in Parliament for the first time.
For one day only, the original copies of the 1215 Great Charter of liberties, held by Salisbury and Lincoln cathedrals and the British Library, went on display in the House of Lords on Thursday.
The parchment manuscripts were transported to the Houses of Parliament overnight in conditions of strict secrecy from the British library where they have been on display to 1,215 members of the public, chosen by ballot, over the past three days.
It is the first time the surviving copies of the charter, agreed between King John and the barons at Runnymede, near Windsor, have been reunited since they were issued.
Organisers refused to disclose any details of the security arrangements to transport what are arguably the most precious constitutional documents in the world.
Although the Lincoln copy has previously travelled to the United States and Australia, it is the first time Salisbury Cathedral’s Magna Carta has left Wiltshire since 1215.
Other than being stored under a quarry in the north of the county to protect it from the risk of bombing during the Second World War, it has never previously left the precincts of the cathedral.
Speaking at the opening of the exhibition in the Royal Gallery, the Speaker of the Commons John Bercow told MPs and peers that it was a vivid reminder of how something forged amid a “crisis of government” had become the foundation of principles as basic as the rule of law.
Lord Cormack, chairman both of the History of Parliament Trust and the Historic Lincoln Trust, described it as a “very, very special day” in the history of Parliament.
“Today is unique,” he said. “For the first time ever legislators have a chance to gaze and reflect upon the only surviving copies of the most important document in our nation’s history, the foundation of the rule of law here and throughout the world.”