§ 3.2 p.m.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government what their reasons were for rejecting the advice of the Royal Fine Art Commission against moving the statue of James II from Trafalgar Square.]
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE FOR COLONIAL AFFAIRS (THE EARL OF PERTH)
My Lords, when Her Majesty's Government received in October, 1956, the generous offer of a statue of Raleigh for London they were most anxious that a suitable site should be provided for it. They therefore selected the position in front of the National Gallery where the statue of the founder of the first permanent settlement in Virginia would balance one of the first President of the United States, who was himself a Virginian. Furthermore this gave Her Majesty's Government an opportunity of moving Grinling Gibbons' fine statue of James II from where it was temporarily placed after the war to a site where the sculptor's craftsmanship could be admired from all sides.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl for his reply: it failed to give an answer to my Question at all, but that is a minor point. I should have liked to hear whether the noble Earl does not think that the statue of James II is well placed in Trafalgar Square, which is primarily associated with the Navy, and whether a statue of Walter Raleigh might not well be placed near the Foreign Office, which might be appropriate, or possibly in Palace Yard, where (if my memory is correct) Sir Walter Raleigh lost his head.
My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord why a political and not an artistic decision has been made on this matter. The Government have discarded the advice of the Royal Fine Art Commission, a Commission of experts appointed by themselves, and I should like to know why they have put the decision into the hands of people who do not know a hawk from a hernshaw.
§ THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, first of all, I thought that the two reasons which I gave (although one may have been a political reason) were answers to the Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree. He asked me why the statue of James II should not be where it is at the moment. I have great hesitation in giving any personal opinion when I look at the noble Lords who are here and know of the advice of the Royal Fine Art Commission. But I think that the second reason that was given is one which bears very careful consideration—namely, the difficulty at the present time of seeing the statue from all sides.
This morning I went once more to have a look at the statue. I felt that I ought to look at it from all sides, but that was very difficult. You have to get up a step about three feet high—itself a difficult thing to do. I then went along the path and, rather daringly I thought, went across the grass and started looking at the statue from the other direction. One or two people looked at me—probably considering whether I ought to be arrested or some such thing. But if it is true, and I understand it is the case, that this is a statue which was originally intended to be seen from all sides, then I personally would say that it is not well placed where it is at the present time.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend two questions? Is he aware that in December, 1947, before the statue was placed where it now is, I asked the then Minister of Works in another place to consider a possible site elsewhere; and he gave the answer that it would be placed where it now is but that if any further move were ever made the opinion of the Royal Fine Art Commission would be taken and carefully considered. May I ask my noble friend, further, whether he can give the real explanation of the astonishing decision that has been made? Is it dislike of Grinling Gibbons, dislike of the Royal Fine Art Commission, or dislike of the Trustees of the National Gallery?
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl why this statue of a good Stuart King, who was manœuvred off his throne by intrigue, should be subject to these further indignities of being kicked about London?
§ EARL ATTLEE
My Lords, was it not a pity to disturb the balance, much admired by visitors from abroad, between the man who kicked us out and the man whom we kicked out?
§ THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, may I deal first with the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank? I would only say that I am a warm supporter of James II, as an ancestor of mine was one who went into exile with him. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, certainly the opinion of the Royal Fine Art Commission has been most seriously considered; indeed, it was because of a suggestion they made that a possible site at Greenwich was ruled out, as they said that if the statue were to be moved it was most important that it should be in a central position in London.
My Lords, may I first make a comment on the reply of the noble Earl, who said that he had difficulty in viewing the back side of the statue, because, as your Lordships know, there is a stone there about two feet high. May I suggest that he could get over that difficulty, as the Duke of Wellington did when he wanted to mount his horse outside the Athenæum, by putting a stone there? That would enable people easily to climb up and see the back. The second point that arose from the noble Earl's reply was this. When our friends from America raised this question, they did not first consult the Royal Fine Art Commission. I think perhaps the trouble has been that they made their decision first, that the National Gallery was a good site, and then afterwards, as a matter of form, consulted the Royal Fine Art Commission. Now, my Lords, this is a matter of very important principle.
This is the question I am coming to. When are we to consult and take the advice of the Royal Fine Art Commission? Both the Fine Art Commission and the National Gallery Trustees have made strong protests. Do the Government agree that the recommendations of the Commission in this case, enforced by the protests of the National Gallery Trustees, should not be passed over except for the strongest reasons? Is not the question of the beauty and appropriateness of the Trafalgar 394 Square layout for the siting of this statue essentially one in which the views of the Royal Fine Art Commission and the National Gallery Trustees should be paramount? The question of money does not arise, nor the question of traffic, and such things.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, may I ask one question?—and it will be a question, I promise your Lordships. Would it not be desirable, particularly in the case of this monarch, that the decision on where the statue should be should rest, as it did in the earlier event, with Parliament and not with any Commission?
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I understand that one of the reasons for removing this statue is that it cannot be seen from all directions. Will not the same thing apply to the statue of Raleigh? Or is it thought that the statue of Raleigh need not be seen from all directions? In view of the obvious feeling that exists, not only in your Lordships' House but everywhere, would the Government not reconsider this matter?
§ THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, if I may deal first with the last question but one of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, Mr. Macmillan, the sculptor who has been asked to do the statue of Raleigh, was told where the site was to be and has specially designed this statue with the idea of its being seen from the front, rather than from all directions. As regards the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, who kindly gave me notice that he was going to raise this question of principle. I think that ordinarily the views of the Royal Fine Art Commission, especially when backed up by those of the Trustees of the National Gallery, certainly weigh heavily; but as the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, has said, in the last analysis the decision must be for Parliament or, in the first instance, perhaps, for the Government, backed up by Parliament. But that does not mean to say that in the great majority of cases the views of such august bodies of people, so well experienced in good taste, are not of the 395 greatest importance. I think that what would be valuable would be to have any further suggestions about where the statue of James II might be put. It will be remembered that the original site was at what is now the Citadel of the Admiralty, though, as your Lordships will remember, it had to be moved from there during the war. If there are any sites thought to be more suitable than that now proposed, I know that my right honourable friend will be glad to consider them.
My Lords, the noble Earl seems now to have moved away from the political to a moral point of view. Neither of these has any effect whatever on a statue. The character of James II is of no importance in the question at issue. I should like to ask the noble Earl whether he considers that, for instance, the Venetians should take down the statue of Colleoni because the character of Colleoni does not suit the morals of the present time or any other time. I cannot find that the value of this statue, which is one of the few good statues in London, is affected by the fact that James II was not a thoroughly desirable man. There are a great many politicians—
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Order, order!
§ THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, I would not agree with the noble Viscount. I should have thought that in many respects, and particularly from the point of view of the Navy, James II was a highly desirable King.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
My Lords, in view of the fact that the noble Earl is willing to consider an alternative site for the James II statue, may I ask whether the Government would consider an alternative site for the Raleigh statue? For a number of reasons, which have been well set out by the Royal Fine Art Commission, the statue of James II in its present place is greatly appreciated and I am sure that public opinion would wish it to remain where it is. It might be wise to find another place for Raleigh.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, is it not a fact that the statue is to be put at the bottom of the Downing Street steps, in that admirable place near to the Foreign Office? I understand that that 396 is the decision. While entirely agreeing that this is one of the few really beautiful statues in London, is that site not likely to be a place where everybody can see it from all sides and as near as possible to the site where we should like to see it, in front of the Admiralty? Is that not a much better site for the statue than where it is at the present time?
§ THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, I think that it would be difficult for me to say much more on this subject this afternoon. I would just point out that when the statue first went to its present site in 1948, the Royal Fine Art Commission were not at all happy that it should be placed there. At that time, The Times ran a campaign against its being placed there—it just shows that things can change. I think that we should give it a chance on a new site, where people can go and look at this very fine statue from all directions without fear of trespass. Another point is that I think that it would be difficult to find stones lying around Trafalgar Square on which one could climb to have a better look at it.