HL Deb 21 June 1923 vol 54 cc556-60

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill of which I hope your Lordships will pass the Second Reading to-day is a measure simple in matter, small in compass and, I hope, uncontentious in character. It is designed to take away any uncertainty in the existing law and to remedy a pressing need with regard to the war memorials which now exist, so far as their preservation, protection and repair in the future are concerned. Any traveller going through the country may see these war memorials. They are to be found in the smallest villages and in the largest cities—memorials of all kinds, industrial, ecclesiastical, regimental and parochial. I am sure your Lordships will feel that these thousands of memorials, which are the expression of a genuine love and gratitude on the part of those who erected them to those who paid their full measure of devotion in sacrificing their lives, should be maintained in a proper and fit state so that the spirit of sacrifice may be maintained and stimulated in future times.

Your Lordships will understand, perhaps, that people coming from a foreign country and seeing these memorials may feel in many cases that already they deserve greater care and attention than they have received and, naturally, as time goes on, the donors pass away, and in many cases there is no responsible authority to look after them. It is the object of this measure to give powers to local authorities to act in the matter. Some local authorities already have powers, but those powers are such that it is not altogether a simple matter for the authority to put itself into a position to take advantage of them. Other local authorities do not possess powers. It is the intention of the promoters of this Bill to remove all uncertainty in the matter and to give powers to act to those authorities which have not the powers already. Your Lordships will notice in the Bill that existing powers are in no way affected by this measure should it become law.

The local authorities to whom these powers will be entrusted will be the councils of the counties and of the county and non-county boroughs, the parish councils and parish meetings where no parish council exists, and urban district councils. Naturally, a considerable sum of money, though not a great sum in any particular district, will be required to carry out these duties, and it is proposed that in the case of parish councils and parish meetings the sum to be expended on this purpose should not exceed that which would be raised by a penny rate. This provision would be subject to the approval of the county council. In the case of other authorities such sum as might be proposed to be expended would be subject to the approval of the Minister of Health. In passing, I may mention that if this Bill passes its Second Reading to-day the Scottish Office, having considered the question, desire that Scotland should be excluded from the Bill because in their view Scotland already has sufficient powers to deal with the matter.

Your Lordships will no doubt be aware that the Bill has passed through all its stages in another place, where it was favourably viewed by the Government and supported by members of all Parties. I sincerely trust that your Lordships may feel that this uncontentious measure is urgently required, because I think it will be felt that we ought not to appear to be lacking in veneration by any neglect of memorials erected in honour of those who gave their lives for the country and whose sacrifice enable those who remain to find a country very different from what it might have been in other circumstances. Those who come after us will, I hope, never know the disasters that might have befallen us had those sacrifices not been made. Should you pass the Second Heading to-day I should propose, with your Lordships' acquiescence, that the Committee stage should be put down for Thursday of next week. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Rochdale.)


My Lords, I am sure we all cordially agree with the sentiments expressed in the eloquent speech of the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill. It is a Bill the objects of which all of us have at heart, and which we should all be glad to see brought into force. I need not say anything more, therefore, on that subject, except that the Bill has been accepted by the Government as an agreed measure, and that as such it conies before your Lordships' House. With regard to Scotland, I have received a letter from my noble friend the Secretary for Scotland, who is not able to be in his place to-day, and who has asked me to make a statement on his behalf. The Title of the Bill as it stands is wide enough to cover Scottish local authorities, but a certain amount of adaptation might be necessary in the drafting if Scotland were to be included. I understand, however, that there is no necessity for a Bill of this kind in Scotland, because, apparently, they already possess in Scotland the necessary powers to maintain war memorials. My noble friend has, therefore, asked me to state that it will probably be necessary, on the Committee stage of the Bill to move an Amendment excluding Scotland from the scope of the measure. As the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading has announced his intention of putting down the Bill for the Committee stage a week to-day there will be plenty of time in which to consider the question.


My Lords, I rise to express my very hearty approval of this Bill. I cannot imagine that it will meet with opposition in any quarter of the House. Indeed, the only criticism which I have to make upon it is that I am not quite sure whether it goes far enough, and perhaps my noble friend will allow me to have some correspondence with him before the Committee stage is reached. All those of your Lordships who travel about the country will have been struck by the number of monuments which are to be found in the different villages, showing—and I think it is an admirable thing that they should show—the devotion and the pride which many villages have in the people who have been born in the particular village. It has occurred to me that in a good many cases it would be very desirable that we should give power to the local authorities to maintain these memorials in good condition. I am not sure whether the limitation to war memorials, which is included by the noble Lord in this Bill, would allow us to do that.

What I have in my mind, if I may give your Lordships an example, is the statue of Wolfe in the village in which he was born. I am not at all sure that it would be possible under the Bill for that particular local authority to maintain that statue in order, and yet I think it is clear that we should all wish it to be, and I am certain the noble Lord opposite would wish it also. Some Amendment in Committee might be necessary in order to make it possible. We all agree, and I am sure that we shall be able to find some form of words which will be agreeable to everybody in your Lordships' House. I should not propose that the rate should be increased even if we bring a larger class of monuments within the scope of the Bill. A penny rate ought to provide sufficient money in order to maintain these monuments in good condition. But, subject to what I have said, I hope that not only the noble Lord who introduced the Bill but that your Lordships' House generally will agree with what I have said. I have the very greatest pleasure in supporting the measure which he has introduced.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.