HC Deb 22 July 1964 vol 699 cc484-91

Order for Second Reading read.

3.39 p.m.

The Prime Minister (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I have it in Command from the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place Her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

It is an honour and privilege to introduce the Bill to the House. President Kennedy made for himself within an astonishingly short space of time an exceptional place in the minds and hearts of people throughout the world. He was very much an American, but he inspired loyalty in many nations other than his own. He was a dedicated politician, but seemed in many ways to stand out above party. He was young, and he was cut down in his prime, but his challenging spirit remains an inspiration to many all over the world.

The idealism and the intelligence which shone through his speeches made a universal appeal to people who were ignorant of the intricacies of American politics. People who normally concern themselves very little with public affairs all found themselves moved by the vigour and hope expressed by the young President Kennedy of the United States. His approach to public affairs had a character of its own which we have come to know as the "Kennedy style".

President Kennedy's resolution in principle and moderation in action not only constituted a fine example of statesmanship in a modern age, but also helped to lead the whole world forward into a new and, I profoundly believe, a more hopeful era in the pattern of relationships between nations. These values of character and of achievement have been given expression in the form of the memorial to President Kennedy in this country which has been proposed by the Committee sitting under Lord Franks and to which the Bill now before the House gives shape.

The House will remember that I announced on 25th March that on the Committee's recommendation, which the Government, in agreement with the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party, accepted, it was agreed that the memorial should take the form of a plot of land at Runnymede, laid out with a simple plinth or monument and steps, which should be given in perpetuity to the United States in memory of President Kennedy, and that, in addition, a scholarships fund should be set up to enable young men and women from this country to go and study at Harvard University, the Radcliffe College, or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

I was glad to be able to say, at the same time, that the Lord Mayor of London had most kindly agreed to make the Kennedy Memorial Fund the object of a Lord Mayor's Appeal for contributions from the public. I understand that, while it has already met with an encouraging response, considerable further contributions are needed if the memorial is fully to achieve its purpose in the provision of scholarships. I hope that this Parliamentary occasion will serve as a timely reminder and give the appeal fresh impetus.

I also explained in my orginal statement to the House that we had invited a small Committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Sherfield, probably better known to Members of the House as Sir Roger Makins, former Ambassador to the United States, to supervise the way in which these recommendations should be put into effect, and the Bill is largely the outcome of its rapid and effective work.

The Committee has suggested that the purposes of the Kennedy Memorial would best be achieved if they were entrusted to a body of trustees, including a number of United States citizens. This proposal has been welcomed by the United States Government and the University of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a trust deed has already been executed providing for the trustees to manage the fund raised by the Kennedy Memorial Appeal.

Of the 11 trustees, the Governor of the Bank of England and the Lord Mayor of London are to serve ex-officio,

and six are to be appointed by the Prime Minister of this country. I am very glad to say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), and our present Ambassador in the United States, Lord Harlech, and Lord Sherfield, former Ambassador to the United States, have already accepted invitations for them to serve. Three trustees will represent the British universities, and, besides these eight United Kingdom trustees, three American trustees have been appointed by the President of the United States and by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The trustees will be responsible for establishing the terms and conditions on which the scholarships are to be offered. The details are, quite naturally, not yet determined, nor do they figure in the Bill.

I have no doubt that the new scheme will attract many keen applicants, and I am sure, also, that the Kennedy Memorial Library and Institute, which, I think hon. Members will know, is the principal American memorial to President Kennedy which is being established in the United States, will be glad to welcome the Kennedy scholars among many other scholars from all parts of the world and that they will benefit from the facilities which are being provided there.

As to the other part of the memorial. Lord Sherfield's Committee found, after careful examination of the site at Runnymede, that the most appropriate spot for the Kennedy Memorial was a corner of agricultural land which now forms part of the Crown Estate. The Crown lessee has readily agreed to cooperate by surrendering the land required, and arrangements are being made to reach an agreement on the termination of the interests of the subtenant.

We have had to consider the problems presented by the alienation of a part of the Crown Estate. There is in the normal way a statutory obligation on the Crown Estate Commissioners to secure the best price for any alienation of Crown land, but on this special occasion I am happy to be able to tell the House that Her Majesty the Queen, who has from the first expressed her close interest in the Kennedy Memorial, has signified her wish that the land should be made over to the United States as a gift.

Clause 1 of the Bill is, therefore, designed to give statutory sanction, with the consent of Parliament, to the wishes of Her Majesty, and I have no doubt that the House will readily concur, because I can tell the House that at the same time the Clause provides that the land, though vested in the United States, shall be under the control and management in perpetuity of the Kennedy Memorial trustees for the use and enjoyment of the public in this country.

Clause 2 gives statutory backing to the position of the trustees in relation to the land. They will be able to manage it consistently with the purposes of the Bill and of the trust deed as if they had all the powers and duties of an absolute owner.

I feel sure that the Bill will find a ready welcome in all parts of the House, and I am glad to think that we may, by making this small addition to our Statute Book, give a lasting expression to the honour and regard given by all people in all walks of life in this country to a great citizen of the United States and a great President in the late John F. Kennedy.

3.47 p.m.

Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)

I am happy to associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the Bill whose Second Reading has just been moved by the Prime Minister.

The Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman explained, gives effect to a national effort which has the support of all parties and all sections of opinion in this country. I think that when this country heard the news of the death of President Kennedy, the feeling of every individual was almost of unbelief as well as of loss, not merely at the death of a world statesman we had all come to respect and honour but at the cutting off of a life which was so young and so vital, a life with so much promise and purpose still unfulfilled.

It is, I suppose, an inevitable corollary of living in a shrinking world, one in which through the magic of modern communications world events and world personalities are brought almost daily to our own fireside, that a tragedy which, years ago, would have seemed somewhat remote and outside our own immediate experience took on a reality and a directness which made the loss seem almost personal to every family in the country. There were very few in Britain who had not heard the President's voice and there were very few who, through the screen, had not come to know his features. Dallas may have seemed centuries away from us in the horror of what was done there, but it was as though it were in the next street in the nearness of the tragedy.

That is why the right hon. Gentleman's initiative in announcing the intention to institute a national memorial was so warmly and widely supported, and I would join with him in what he has said today, in once again commending the Lord Mayor's Appeal to the nation. He is right that much has been done in response to this appeal, but much remains to be done.

No short speech, such as is appropriate on the Bill today, could provide a fitting tribute to everything which the late President represented, or could even begin to characterise and define the legend which even now, only a few months after that tragedy, has formed around his memory. For some, as the Prime Minister said, it is the mirror to youth, to the vigour and freshness, which he brought in place of the tired clichés of thought, word and action. For others, it was his firmness and courage, his fight for human rights and human dignity. For yet others, it was his ability to see every unfolding event against the spatial background of the whole world, against the temporal background of the entire canvas of history.

For here was a man who, in his first State of the Union Message, could commend a very detailed and specific programme in terms of a world of neighbours when he said: The hopes of all mankind rest upon us, not simply upon those of us in this chamber, but upon the peasant in Laos, the fisherman in Nigeria, the exile from Cuba, the spirit that moves every man and nation who shares our hopes for freedom and the future. The Prime Minister has referred, rightly, to President Kennedy's contribution to the relaxation of East-West tension. I was with several of my right hon. and hon. Friends in Moscow when he made his historic speech to the All-American University and I think that we were the first to hear Mr. Khrushchev's reaction to it. One could see the impact on the Russian leadership of a courageous speech which talked in terms of not only co-existence but of positive working for peace.

We heard from Mr. Khrushchev, at a very critical time in world history, on the eve of the meetings with the Chinese Communist Party and on the eve of the test ban talks, how profoundly he had been moved by the thought that the young leader of America felt that peace was not only electorally popular—as Mr. Khrushchev, perhaps cynically, put forward—but was something that would be supported by all his people. Those of us who remember the past years know the courage that it took President Kennedy to make that speech.

His life and his death gave an impetus to the coarse which, above all others, will be associated with his memory—the fight for human rights, the assertion of human dignity and equality against the loathsome doctrine of racialism. It was he who provided the inspiration and his successor, in a contribution which history will not fail to equate with that of President Kennedy, has courageously, and with decisive leadership, turned that impetus into an historic act of legislature.

It has been said of President Kennedy that, in the machinery of Government, he processed all the multi-dimensional data of crisis with the certainty and precision and almost with the speed of a computer. But the inspiration of his decision had a vision which drew on deeper intellectual and moral reserves, which, in his famous Message on Education he expressed in seven words: The human mind is our fundamental resource. This Bill, which provides legislative effect to the proposal made by Lord Franks' Committee and endorsed by all of us, in this House and outside, and which, at the same time, recognises in statutory form the generous lead graciously given to the nation by Her Majesty, now enables a national tribute to be turned into a permanent and living memorial.

It is entirely appropriate that we should relate the form of our proposed national memorial to the joint heritage of our two nations in the advance of human freedom, symbolised by Runnymede. But this is only a part. President Kennedy did not live in the past and we cannot. So the provision of Harvard, Radcliffe and the M.I.T. scholarships for our students is that part of the memorial where we invest in the future, where we encourage scholarship and research and where, in the late President's words, we … recognise the value of dissent and daring, that we greet healthy controversy as the hallmark of healthy change. We live in a time of anxiety and concern which have been expressed even about the inner cohesion of the Atlantic community. It is fitting that, in honouring a great American, a great idealist, a great citizen of the world, through the abiding realities of Runnymede and the challenging probing into the future which scholarship can provide, this House should today register its confidence in the future of our partnership and its determination, inspired by the life and, indeed, by the death of Jack Kennedy, to transcend the doubts and anxieties that it would be unrealistic to ignore but unworthy to accept as the pattern of the future.

3.55 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

On behalf of the Liberal Party, I am happy to support what has been said by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. The late President of the United States will long be remembered for his firm but restrained defence of freedom. For that reason it is fitting that part of his memorial should be a portion of the ground which is forever closely associated with the growth of the democratic freedom of the Western world.

President Kennedy will also be remembered for the intellectual distinction of Washington under his influence. In his view, politics were concerned with the quality of life. He put a high value on training and ability. He was never afraid of clever men or clever women. He was also sensitive to new and complicated issues with which we all have to grapple and many of which are international. It is, therefore, appropriate that the other part of his memorial should take the form of these scholarships to Harvard, Radcliffe and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But he will, above all, be remembered by the example he set and by the memories he has left. I support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. J. E. B. Hill.]

Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported, without Amendment, read the Third time and passed.