HL Deb 15 November 1955 vol 194 cc495-7

2.41 p.m.


My Lords, With the permission of the House I should like to make a statement, similar to that which is to be made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Works, on the Victoria Tower Gardens. As your Lordships are aware, the statue of the Burghers of Calais is to be moved to a more central situation and put on a lower plinth. The statue of Mrs. Pankhurst will be moved closer to the Houses of Parliament, near the place now occupied by the Burghers of Calais. The Suffragette Fellowship, while still objecting in principle to the removal, agree that this is a more suitable site than that which my right honourable friend originally proposed, further south in the gardens. Subject to Parliamentary approval, the Buxton Memorial Fountain will also be erected in the Gardens, and in accordance with the Parliament Square Improvements Act, 1949, a Paper will be laid before Parliament to-day. This Paper will include a plan of the new layout, including the proposed new sites for the monuments.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his courtesy in making this statement in this House. I would ask him to convey to his right honourable friend our thanks for reconsidering his original proposal. At the same time, as the noble Earl is already aware, removal of the statue of Mrs. Pankhurst will be viewed with real regret by those—including myself—who took part in its unveiling when it was first erected, not very many years ago. I can only express the hope that Her Majesty's Government will do all in their power to make the new site a dignified and prominent memorial, worthy of the lady who played so active a part in the enfranchisement of half the citizens of this country.


My Lords, I also should like to thank the noble Earl for the courteous statement which he has made about these three statues. I should not presume to comment on the memorial to Mrs. Pankhurst, about which I feel Lord Pethick-Lawrence is much more qualified to speak than any others of your Lordships. With regard to the Burghers of Calais, I think it most important that due weight should be given to æsthetic considerations in deciding where this statue should be placed. Most people, I feel, will be glad to know of the action which is about to be taken. As regards the Buxton Memorial Fountain, that is a rather more controversial issue. I was glad to note that the noble Earl said that "subject to Parliamentary approval" it will be re-erected in this place or that place. It seems to me that there is a rather generally accepted idea that this memorial fountain will be erected in the Victoria Gardens as some sort of pledge to that effect has been given. I am glad that the noble Earl has now made it quite clear that no indissoluble pledge has been given, and that Parliamentary approval will be required for the final choice of a site. As one who, like many others of your Lordships, enjoys these gardens, and lives rather near to them, I hope the noble Earl will see to it that this open space is not filled up with a large number of memorials. If this fountain is to be placed in a valuable open space I hope it may be placed at the far end, near Lambeth Bridge, where it will not impinge on the valuable open spaces in the centre of the gardens.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl a question concerning the Burghers of Calais monument? He will be aware that the arrangement of the figures has been questioned, and there are, I believe, some grounds for believing that the present arrangement is not the one originally designed by Rodin. I wonder whether the question of a rearrangement of the figures when the monument is re-erected has been considered.


My Lords may I add this observation? So far as the Burghers of Calais monument is concerned, I have not seen what is proposed about the height of the plinth, but I hope that it will be very much lower, as in the case of the other copies of the Burghers of Calais group. It is quite true, I believe, that Rodin himself suggested this height but, as Sir Eric Maclagan once told me, Rodin suggested different things on almost every day of the week—he was quite uncertain about it. I hope very much that a lower plinth will be considered so that this statue may be better seen. With regard to the Buxton Memorial Fountain, I hope that what the noble Earl has said does not mean that the actual memorial which used to stand in the Square is to be reinstated. Though we all desire to coma memorate the great work of Buxton, it seems to many of us that it is an appalling way to commemorate a great man and his great work by re-erecting such an appallingly ugly structure. I hope that we are not in any way committed to such an ugly structure. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Pethick-Lawrence in what he has said about the memorial to Mrs. Pankhurst.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, for his observations, and I will certainly see that his views are brought to the notice of my right honourable friend the Minister. I feel certain that the new site for the statue of Mrs. Pankhurst will, in fact, be just as dignified and prominent as the present one, which, if my recollection is correct, is hardly to be seen at the moment as it is covered by bushes. As regards what Lord Rea has said about the Buxton Memorial Fountain, this memorial will be situated in the Gardens by entrance Number 3 on Millbank. I can assure the noble Lord that it is not the intention of my right honourable friend to fill up this garden with any number of memorials or monuments. As regards what the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, has said, I regret that I cannot tell him now whether or not it is intended to make a rearrangement of the figures in the Burghers of Calais group. I will, however, let the noble Lord know in due course. As to the remarks of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, I am not in a position to give him an indication about the height of the plinth at the moment. I certainly think that it will be better than the present one, which many of your Lordships so often see. I understand that it is the intention to set up the Buxton Memorial as it was in the old days in Parliament Square, but of course there will be an opportunity for your Lordships to discuss this matter, and to decide what view you would wish to take when it has been to the Special Orders Committee who will in due course make a Report to the House for approval.