HL Deb 07 June 1951 vol 171 cc1157-9

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Government a Question of which I have given them private notice—namely, whether His Majesty's Government have any statement to make as to a national memorial to Field-Marshal Smuts in this country.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Marquess for giving me this opportunity of making a statement in similar terms to those used in a statement just made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. His Majesty's Government are satisfied by representations which they have received, and by the expression of views in various quarters, that there is a general desire that a suitable memorial to Field-Marshal Smuts should be erected in this country. His Majesty's Government are in agreement with this view. Field-Marshal Smuts held a unique position in the Commonwealth for some thirty years, and his services, as statesman, soldier and thinker, to the whole Commonwealth, were altogether outstanding. We would therefore propose that a statue should be erected at public expense on a suitable site in Westminster. A Resolution will be brought before Parliament in due course. His Majesty's Government would propose to invite representatives of Opposition Parties to join in consultation regarding the choice of a sculptor and other details which have yet to be decided.

I trust that this House, and indeed the country, will agree that it is right that we should mark our admiration for this great leader of the Commonwealth in this manner. I may also perhaps be allowed to add that an appeal is to be issued to-morrow for private contributions to a fund intended to commemorate Field-Marshal Smuts' part in the development of the conception of the Commonwealth and his devotion to the University of which he was Chancellor by the endowment of Commonwealth studies at Cambridge.


My Lords, I am sure we are all glad to hear the announcement which the Lord Chancellor, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, has just made, and I know that the Party for which I speak will be very happy to be associated with it. I suppose that Field-Marshal Smuts—General Smuts, as we most of us remember him—was in his way one of the greatest of all the Empire statesmen. He was the living embodiment throughout his whole life of that freedom of thought and opinion which is the very essence of the British Commonwealth. He had, too, that vision which is all too rare in this world with regard to the problems of the future, and an undaunted courage in facing them. No one, I should have thought, could be more fitted to be commemorated here in the capital city of the oldest member of our family.

As the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has explained to your Lordships, the visible memorial for which the Government, by agreement with the other Parties, are making themselves responsible is, of course, only one part of the whole scheme which is in contemplation. There are, I understand, wider plans under consideration. I am confident, as I am sure we all are. that these will receive the wholehearted support of the British people. We have, unhappily, lost the wise counsel of Field-Marshal Smuts himself: it is for us to keep alive his spirit, for on that may well depend the survival of the Commonwealth, with all that that means to the world.


My Lords, I feel sure that His Majesty's Government have rightly interpreted the wishes of the British people in deciding to propose to Parliament that a statue should be erected to Field-Marshal Smuts at the public expense, and that it should be placed here in Westminster. I feel sure that the proposal will receive the unanimous support of both Houses and of all Parties. This rare and signal honour will be a tribute, not only to Field-Marshal Smuts, but also to the Dominion of South Africa, which he served so long and so faithfully. While this is the tribute of the nation as a whole, the individual citizens will have an opportunity of showing their appreciation of Field-Marshal Smuts as a statesman and thinker by raising a fund which could have no better character than the promotion of Commonwealth studies in his own University of Cambridge, of which he was the devoted Chancellor.

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