HL Deb 24 February 1925 vol 60 cc252-65


That a Select Committee be appointed to re-examine the question of the available sites for a Peers' War Memorial in the House of Lords, and that the following Lords, with the Lord President and the Chairman of Committees, be named of the Committee—

The noble Marquees said: My Lords, I hope you will allow me to anticipate the course of business on the Paper to this extent. The matter which I am about to bring before your Lordships is really a matter of private business, about, which, however, some discussion may arise. I regret to say that I have an important engagement which I cannot escape, at a short distance of time from now, and I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I were now, as a matter of urgent private business, to take this question before the two Bills which are down on the Paper and which will then follow. It is in pursuance of the undertaking which I gave a week ago that I have placed the Motion on the Paper which I now have the honour to move.

The object of this Resolution is to set up a representative Committee of your Lordships' House in order to consider the suggestion which was communicated to us in a letter from the Private Secretary of His Majesty the King. And may I, in mentioning the name of the Sovereign, be allowed—I will not say to transgress, but to go outside the ordinary practice of the House which your Lordships will, I am sure, condone, in expressing the deep concern with which we have all followed the record of the illness of His Majesty, the profound satisfaction which we feel at the news of steady progress, and our hopes that, in consequence of the steps that are about to be taken, absolute convalescence may at no distant date be assured?

I alluded to the letter which I read a week ago from the Private Secretary of the King. In that letter the suggestion was made that, objections having been made in some quarters to the proposal to move the statue of Queen Victoria from the Prince's Chamber in order to erect the proposed Peers' War Memorial on that site, the House of Lords should reconsider the matter with a view to securing, if possible, that unanimity which we all desire. Your Lordships will, I think, agree that the proposed Committee is thoroughly representative of every section in this House. And I may add here that there was another name that I had sought to add to it which would have strengthened it still further—I mean the name of Lord Buxton, who has already taken an active part in serving on a Sub-Committee to consider the question of the names to be commemorated—but Lord Buxton is about to go away and is, in consequence, unable, greatly to his regret, to serve.

I do not think it necessary on the present occasion to say much about the history of this matter. It has already been twice debated in your Lordships' House, in July and August, 1923; it has been repeatedly stated in circulars which have been issued to, even if they have not been read by, all your Lordships; and it was recapitulated by myself in a letter which I wrote to The Times newspaper a few weeks ago. I would only like to add an observation upon one point connected with the history of the case. I am sure that when the proposal was made to remove that statue the idea that such removal could involve any shadow of disrespect to the memory of the great Queen whom it commemorates never entered into one of your Lordships' minds. Such an idea would not merely be distasteful, but would be abhorrent to all your Lordships. But I may remind you that the proposal never was to dispose of that statue. The proposal merely was to remove it from its present site to another site little more than a hundred feet away, where it would have been placed in the tower which bears Her Majesty's name, the Victoria Tower, at the head of the main staircase which is the official entrance to this House and up which His Majesty ascends whenever he comes to Westminster to open his Parliament.

Secondly, it is fair to point out that the statue in question was never regarded by your Lordships, so far as I know, as having an intimate or personal character. It was not, as some have supposed in the Press, erected as a memorial to Queen Victoria on her death by a mourning people; on the contrary, it was erected in the early part of her reign as a part of the decorative scheme for adorning this Chamber, built in her time—indeed, it was not part of the original scheme. It was not, so far as I know, ever intended to be, or ever was, regarded as a personal likeness of Her Majesty. Rather was it a symbolical effigy commemorating the association of this building with Queen Victoria's reign.

When the suggestion was first made that that site should be considered for the Peers' War Memorial—and I may say, in passing, that the suggestion did not come from me; on the contrary, I had already proposed and secured general favour for another site—it was actuated by these reasons. In the first place, it was thought that the recessed alcove in the Royal Gallery which had previously been favoured was too small and too secluded for the object for which it was intended. It was felt to be absolutely impossible that the names of the 230 Peers and their relatives, which are to be recorded, should be contained, along with an effigy, in that restricted place. And, further, we were at a loss to know how we should expend there the great sums, amounting now to £9,000, which have been contributed by your Lordships towards the erection of this memorial in this Palace of Westminster. Accordingly, when the suggestion was made, and when a number of Peers came to me and strongly urged its consideration, the only duty which devolved upon me was to represent their case to the Committee of which I had been elected Chairman, to ask for a decision on their part—and they were unanimous in its favour—then to seek the consent of the Lord Great Chamberlain who is responsible for the fabric of this Palace, and, finally, to submit the suggestion to the approval of His Majesty the King. All those conditions were satisfied, and I, personally, as Leader of the House, had no responsibility and no authority in the matter except to carry out that which was the instruction of the Committee and which had been endorsed by what then appeared to be the unanimous acceptance of this House.

The same conditions prevailed, mutatis mutandis, in the autumn of 1923. Your Lordships will recollect that, the matter having been raised in this House in July of that year and doubts having been expressed in some quarter as to the propriety of the choice, I proposed from this Bench that the question should be decided by the only tribunal really competent in the last resort to decide it—namely, the whole of your Lordships' House. I suggested that a referendum should be made to the whole of the Peers, the case for one site or the other being stated on both sides and the matter referred for decision to them. I pledged myself, so far as I was responsible as Chairman of the Committee, to accept and to act upon whatever decision the House of Lords might arrive at. Your Lordships will recollect that the result was a very decisive vote in favour of the site in the Prince's Chamber. The actual voting was 204 to 134 and the result of that plebiscite was published in the papers. It was known by everybody that action would be taken upon it. As Chairman of the Committee I had no alternative but to act as I imagine your Lordships would desire, in obedience to the behests of your Lordships' House, and from that date to this—and I shall have a word to add about that in a moment—I have done nothing but carry out the clear, the deliberate instructions of the great majority of your Lordships' House.

Now I come to the new situation that has arisen. In the beginning of this year there appeared a correspondence in certain newspapers, a correspondence in which I may observe, in passing, that only-four members of your Lordships' House took part; but a correspondence which indicated a certain difference of opinion on the part of the public as to the desirability of moving the statue of the Queen. Then there came the intervention of His Majesty in the shape of the letter to which I have referred and, of course, it is now our duty, our pleasant duty, to obey His Majesty's suggestion to set up this Committee, the names of which are upon the Paper, to re-examine the whole question, ab initio and, if possible, to arrive, as I hope we shall arrive, as I think we ought to arrive, at a unanimous recommendation to the House upon the subject. But may I add an expression of a respectful hope that what ever decision the House of Lords may arrive at in this later stage there will be no repetition of the oscillations, the uncertainties and the reversals which have characterised the proceedings of the last six years? I say so for this reason in particular. Such movements are profoundly unfair upon two classes of persons—firstly, upon those whom you charge to carry out your wishes in the matter, and secondly, upon those artists, whether they be sculptors or architects, whom you employ to submit designs to you with a view of ultimately carrying out your desires.

I wonder whether your Lordships have any general idea of what has passed in this respect in the last six years. Between the year 1919, when the site was first chosen and communicated to all your Lordships, and the year 1923 not a single voice was raised in protest against the acceptance of the site. Accordingly, those who were engaged in carrying out your wishes, of whom I happened to be the spokesman, entered into prolonged and laborious negotiations with artists of every description, who came down here, who saw the place, who drew designs, who submitted models, altogether involving an amount of work which your Lordships can hardly measure. Then, in 1923, when the matter was raised here and when your Lordships, by the vote to which I have referred, again expressed your strong feeling in favour of that site and when we all agreed here that that decision should be acepted as final, negotiations were again entered upon. The President of the Academy interested himself in the matter. The most eminent sculptors and the most eminent architects of the day came here. I have been personally charged with the negotiations with them and the amount of trouble that has been taken has been enormous.

Then, not immediately after this decision had been, arrived at, when anybody who desired to protest against it might have done so, but after a year and a quarter in which not a voice had been raised, in which not a finger had been lifted, the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, writes to The Times and reopens the matter by an appeal to public opinion. The noble Earl will justify his own conduct in the matter. I am only speaking of it in relation to the future, and I am expressing a conviction, in the first place, that this kind of procedure which has characterised the events of the last five or six years is not quite the right way to conduct the matter and that we should do our best in the future to guarantee ourselves against a repetition of it. I should be very loath, if I may refer to my personal attitude, to be associated in the future with any policy in this respect that was likely at a later date once again to be challenged and to be upset by a vote of your Lordships' House.

Therefore, the plan which I venture to submit to you is this—that we should, in pursuance of the suggestion that has been made from an exalted quarter, set up this Committee, that the Committee should meet and consider every possible or available site, that they should then make a Report to your Lordships' House, that that Report should be discussed here and either accepted or rejected by your Lordships. Of course, if questions are involved requiring the consent of the Lord Great Chamberlain, or of His Majesty, reference will be made to those quarters. But if we follow that procedure and come with a Report to this House, and your Lordships accept it, then I trust there may be no attempt to reopen the question, but that we may, in the last resort, attain some finality in the matter. I need only say in conclusion, that if this Committee is appointed, I trust that they may proceed with the consciousness that the good will of your Lordships is behind them, that you all wish that the House should be extricated from a rather delicate and invidious position. I indicated a little earlier that I am sanguine myself that we shall be able to arrive at a solution which will be acceptable to all, but it can only be so if both now and later we are assured of the aid and confidence of your Lordships' House.

Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to re-examine the question of the available sites for a Peers' War Memorial in the House of Lords, and that the following Lords, with the Lord President and the Chairman of Committees, be named of the Committee—

—(The Marquess curzon of kedleston.)


My Lords, it is with a very real disqualification on my part that I rise to reply to the remarks which have been made by the noble Marquess the Lord President. Feeling as a criminal whose conduct has been arraigned at the Bar of your Lordships' House, I confess that I should be better prepared to respond to the accusations laid against me if I had had any notice of the attack which the noble Marquess proposed to make.


My Lords, may I rise to say that I made no attack at all? I merely stated the facts of the case.


My Lords, I might agree that the noble Marquess made no personal attack, but I do take exception to the method of the attack which was one upon the way that I conducted the campaign at the time. The noble Marquess made a very serious attack, especially commenting that action was delayed so many months, and I think that it is not unfair to repeat that it is an attack. Had the noble Marquess been kind enough to give me notice of his intention I should, I think, have been prepared with dates and figures which would have gone far to justify the action that I took. As it is, I confess that I came down to your Lordships' House hoping and expecting that the matter would be passed sub silentio by agreement, as so often happens when a difficult question is referred to a Committee of your Lordships' House. I think it would have been a very great advantage if, on this occasion, a similar procedure had been followed by the noble Marquess. I should like to express, on behalf of my noble friend the last recruit to your Lordships' House (the Earl of Oxford and Asquith) his regret that he is not able to be present. Had he known that the noble Marquess was going to initiate a discussion of this kind I think he would have thrown over the engagement which prevents him from being here this evening.

There are one or two comments which I am sure your Lordships will allow me to make upon the statement of the noble Marquess. The first comment which I wish to make is this. There was a remarkable unanimity in the correspondence which appeared in the Press and, for my own part, I should like to take this opportunity to express my very real sense of gratitude to The Times for the publication which they gave to the various letters upon the subject. Without the help which they gave I suppose the matter would not have been re-opened as, fortunately, it is going to be. With the one exception of that of the noble Marquess himself every letter condemned the proposal, and I think that is a remarkable thing. Apart from that the correspondence which I received privately went far to make me feel at that time, and makes me feel even now, that I was justified in raising the question again.

The fact really is, I think, that this is a matter which interests a far larger and wider circle than that of your Lordships' House. There are a great many people to whom the statue of Queen Victoria and its position are matters of very great interest and they felt, I think rightly, that they also had a right to be heard upon a question of this kind. It is not merely a matter for the members of this House, but it is one for the country generally. It is not uninteresting to notice that in the figures which the noble Marquess gave it appears from the voting that the total number of votes is less than half the members of your Lordships' House. All those people, whether they be Peers or not, who did not vote represent a large circle outside. In spite of what was in the minds of the Committee which made this recommendation and of what was in the minds of a great many members of your Lordships' House, of doing nothing which would in any way slight the memory of the late Queen—in spite of all that there are a great many people to whom it did seem a slight to the memory of the late Queen that her statue should be removed from where it is now and placed in a position which is certainly far less dignified, far darker and not nearly so suitable as the present one

Your Lordships will perhaps allow me to make two further personal observations. It so happened that I spent part of my winter holiday in Rome, and in one of the main galleries of the Corsini Gallery to my surprise and delight as I entered I found in the centre of the first room a statue by this very same Gibson. So highly was it thought of by a people who are connoisseurs of statuary that they put it in a conspicuous place in the middle of the collection of statuary most of which was by Italian artists. That shows that there is a great merit, at any rate, in Gibson's work and that it is not altogether that mediocre work of art which some people think.

The other personal thing that I would mention is this. Many of your Lordships who have visited Rome will have noticed in the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament in St. Peter's the magnificent recumbent statue of Sixtus IV by Pollajuolo. That has lately been removed from St. Peter's, and put in a new museum just outside St. Peter's. There it is exhibited in a building which is admirable as a museum. The light is hard and crude, and there is plenty of it, but the sentiment of a great many people has been outraged by the fact that the statue has been moved from the Chapel in which, although it may have been seen less well, it at any rate had a great deal of romance, and looked a great deal better than it does at the present time. If I had had more notice I might have been able to find out exactly how long it was that the recumbent statue had lain in that particular Chapel. There is a considerable outcry already in Rome against the removal of this statue, and it is not unlikely that before very long public opinion will be so strong that the authorities will be compelled to remove it from this new museum, and place it either in its original position or in one somewhat akin to it.

May I venture, having been concerned in the matter of the decoration of your Lordships' House, to commend to the noble Marquess and his Committee the very interesting Blue-book and Report made by the Committee that sat a good many years ago—long before the noble Marquess himself entered this House—and which was presided over by the father of my noble friend Lord Stanmore? That Committee went into the whole question of the decoration of your Lordships' House, and those portions of the Palace of Westminster in particular which are devoted to the service of your Lordships' House. I feel sure that the perusal of that Report will prove of very real interest to the members of the Committee.

I have no doubt that they will be able to find some other place suitable for the erection of this Memorial. I have a great deal of confidence in the sculptor so happily chosen by the noble Marquess and his Committee, and I am sure the genius of Mr. Tweed will provide your Lordships' House with something which will be a great artistic addition to the House as well as an adequate Memorial of those who were killed in the war. In these circumstances only one thing, I think, remains for me to say. I heartily concur in the appointment of this Committee. I regret the absence from it of my noble friend Lord Buxton, who, being abroad, felt himself unable to place his services at the disposal of the noble Marquess. I have very little doubt indeed that the Committee will be able to find a site which will meet with the unanimous approval of your Lordships' House, and in which we shall be able to place an adequate Memorial to those killed in the war.


My Lords, I cannot divest myself of a certain share of responsibility for what has already happened with regard to this Memorial, and the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has been good enough to include my name amongst those who are to serve on the Committee which we are about to appoint. I am therefore tempted to say a few words as to the manner in which I regard the present situation. There is evidently wide divergence of opinion with regard to the proper place in which this War Memorial might be placed, but this is not the moment for comparing the merits of the different schemes which have been put before us. There is room for a great variety of opinion; but I am inclined to believe that with regard to two points at all events there is a general, if not complete, unanimity amongst your Lordships.

There is, in the first place, a widespread feeling of impatience that although nearly six years have passed virtually no progress has been made toward the construction of this Memorial. Those of us who travel about the country see in every village, no matter how remote or humble, the War Memorials that have sprung up, bearing witness to the affection of the dwellers around for those whom they lost in the Great War. It seems almost intolerable that this House, with all its enthusiasm and all its wealth, should not yet have been able to advance further towards the completion of a well-considered scheme for a Memorial of those whom we have lost. That is one feeling which, I think, prevails in your Lordship's House. The other feeling, unless I am mistaken, is that we desire above all things that this subject should not provoke a controversy, a heated and perhaps acrimonious controversy. Nothing could be more horrible and more indecent than that that should happen with regard to the two Memorials we are discussing this afternoon.

One is the memorial of the Sovereign whom we always speak of as the "Great Queen," a Sovereign whom we all think of with reverence and who was regarded by those who had the honour of serving her and knowing her personally with feelings of the pro-foundest devotion. What is the other Memorial? It is a Memorial to commemorate our own kinsmen, those members of our families who in the terrible struggle gloriously lost their lives. Could anything be more repugnant to all of us than that there should be something in the nature of a wrangle over the manner in which we are to record the services they rendered to the country. Therefore, what we desire above all things is a prompt, settlement of this question and one which will provoke no heated argument.

May I add a few words with regard to the manner in which this subject has been handled up to the present? I notice that in what is said and written about it one occasionally detects a note of complaint as to what has been decided by the Committee over which the noble Marquess presided. Let me say quite frankly that if there is to be any complaint it could be more legitimately made, not of those who were entrusted with the investigation of this matter but of those who, having had ample opportunities of expressing their opinions with regard to it, from indifference or remissness have failed to express those opinions at the proper time and have come forward with rather belated protests as to what it is intended to do. I can bear emphatic testimony to the patience and tact with which this matter was dealt with by the noble Marquess who presides over the Committee of your Lordships' House. He did not neglect any opportunity of ascertaining either the sentiments of your Lordships or the views of those who have a right to be consulted on such a question.

Your Lordships have before you the two circulars—the one of November, 1919, and the referendum of October, 1923. Those two documents, and the reception they met with, established beyond question that the noble Marquess and those who were associated with him took every step they possibly could in order to make sure of their ground before proceeding. If there was any failure it was not due to want of interest or energy on their part. But I do not think the possibilities of the case have yet been quite thoroughly explored. I am not sure that we may not have been misled when we were told that there were only two possible sites in this building for our War Memorial. Further investigation may discover, perhaps not an equally good, but at any rate a wholly unobjectionable site for the Memorial. I am sure that your Lordships' Committee will proceed with its task with that feeling and with an earnest determination, in the first place, to arrive at a speedy and well-considered conclusion and, in the next place, to discover a settlement which will leave behind it no trace of bitterness or disappointment.


My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships will feel, as I feel, very grateful to the noble Marquess who has just sat down for having lifted this discussion into a serener atmosphere. There is no doubt that the question was raised in a somewhat belated form and gave rise to some asperity, and that makes the Motion which the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has proposed not only a prudent but a right Motion. We want to get not only as near to the sense of the members of this House as we can, but to consider those people outside to whom my noble friend Lord Beauchamp made reference. A debate in this House is a very uncertain means of securing that end. It may take place when very few are present, or it may take place when those representing one view are in a preponderance, notwithstanding that there are those representing another view who have not taken the trouble to come. For my part, I prefer the method suggested, that of a Select Committee, and, looking at the names of that Committee, I think that we are more likely to get at the real sense of the House by their Report than we should have been if we had discussed this matter for two days at sittings in the full House. Speaking for myself, I am well satisfied not only with the appointment of the Committee but also with the names, and I think this is our best way out of a situation attended with some difficulty.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.