HC Deb 07 December 1926 vol 200 cc1923-5

I beg to move, That, leave be given to introduce a Bill to confer powers on the Imperial War Graves Commission with respect to the erection of a memorial to the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine who perished in the late War. The object of the Bill is to enable the Imperial War Graves Commission to use a site on Great Tower Hill for a memorial to those members of the British merchant service who were "missing" in the late War. [HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed!") Some 12,000 officers and men of this service, many of them from the Dominions overseas, lost their lives at sea through enemy action, and have no graves but the sea. They can only in this way be individually commemorated. The Royal Navy have their memorials at Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham, which were finished three years ago. No corresponding national tribute has as yet been paid to the "missing" of the merchant service, who, by their gallantry and self- sacrifice did their part in maintaining the food supplies and commerce of the Empire. The public demand, that this task should be undertaken, is widespread and pressing. The Commission, after consulting the various organisations interested in the welfare of merchant seamen, and after considering many different suggestions as to the form the memorial should take, have found that the most generally acceptable solution is the erection of a monument on some prominent site in London. A design has been prepared by Sir Edwin Lutyens, R.A. The governing consideration in the design has been to provide, in a beautiful setting, space on which each of the 12,000 names can be individually inscribed, as in the case of the naval and military memorials to the "missing," and in such a way that they may be easily read by the relatives and the public generally. The entire cost of building the momorial, and of maintaining it afterwards, will be met from the Commission's own funds, and it is noteworthy that the Governments of the Dominions overseas, as well as that of the United Kingdom, contribute to those funds and are thus in a. practical sense associated with the object for which this Act is sought.

The site which has been chosen, in the garden on Tower Hill, is regarded as eminently suitable for such a purpose no less from its proximity to London's shipping than from its comparative quiet. The land is Crown Land, but under an old Statute of 1797, the management of the garden is exercised by a body of trustees, representative of the Corporation of Trinity House and of the Port of London Authority as well as of other occupiers of houses and premises abutting on Tower Hill, who with these occupiers enjoy the right to use the garden under the provisions of the Act in question. The memorial will have separate entrances direct from the public footway which skirts the garden, so as to enable members of the public to have free access to the memorial during the day time without interfering with the users of the garden. The Tower Hill Trustees have approved the design and have agreed, on certain conditions accepted by the Commission, not to oppose the grant of Parliamentary powers to enable the memorial to be built but they have no power effectively to sanction the building unless an Act of Parliament is obtained. The Commissioners of Crown Lands have likewise agreed not to oppose a Bill, and the First Commissioner of Works has approved the scheme so far as his Department is concerned. Other authorities who have expressed assent are the Council of the Borough of Stepney—the site being just within the borough boundary—and the Lord Mayor of London. The London County Council are not thought to have any special interests involved, but were informed some time ago of the scheme and have raised no objection. The Commission are not aware of any opposition or likelihood of opposition from any quarter. This I feel is a Bill, the object of which is far above party. It has far-reaching support both in this country and in the Dominions.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Gosling, the Prime Minister, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald and Mr. Lloyd George.