HL Deb 20 November 1958 vol 212 cc727-47

3.13 p.m.

LORD BRABAZON OF TARA rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will arrange for the model (recently on exhibition in London) of the design submitted for a memorial to the crossing of the Atlantic and back by the R.34 airship in July, 1919, to be placed in the Library of this House; whether the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation has sanctioned the erection of this memorial at the London Airport; whether Her Majesty's Government consider that a bronze memorial from this design, 14 feet high, would be a suitable object for exhibition at the principal gateway of Great Britain as an example, for arrivals from the Commonwealth and foreign countries, of British culture; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I confess that the Motion upon the Order Paper in my name is somewhat cryptic and difficult to understand, but I hope that it will be clearer to your Lordships as I unfold the tale of what has happened.

It was thirty-nine years ago, on July 2, 1919, that an early British airship, R.34 left Scotland and sailed to America, with thirty-two people aboard—at least that was the number known: curiously enough, there was a stowaway, so the airship arrived with thirty-three—and four days later returned to this country safe and sound. In those days that was a remarkable pioneering feat. They were the first men of the old world to arrive in the new by air, and I think that that piece of aeronautical pioneering, odd as it may seem to us now, with aeroplanes instead of airships, should never be forgotten. The great Air League took the same view, that it should be commemorated, and they also thought that the commemoration should take the form of something to be put in the Airport of London. With that view I agree.

Then, my Lords, things started to go wrong. On the Council of the Air League was an art dealer, and you can well see that when you talk about art you hand the thing over to the expert. The expert asked a very modern sculptor to try his hand at producing a model, and he produced something which is now a matter of acute controversy. In order to be entirely fair, I tried to get the model of this object put into the Library of the House, and I got the consent of the Chairman of the Air League for this to be done. That was to have happened, so that all your Lordships could have had a look at the model to see what you thought of it. However, I have this letter from Sir George Pirie in which he writes to me: I am sorry to have to report to you that … the sculptor of the R.34 Commemoration project, is disinclined to allow the maquette of his design to be exhibited in the House of Lords. He feels that the maquette gives an entirely wrong impression of the real design and that, until one has seen the full size piece of sculpture in a proper setting and properly lighted, one cannot really appreciate it. As he is the de jure owner of the maquette, we have no option but to observe his wishes in this connection. I am sorry about that decision, because I should have liked your Lordships to see the model and to adjudicate upon it. But I felt that if we were going to discuss this matter it would be wise to let your Lordships know what we were talking about, and accordingly I have placed outside the Chamber some photographs of the model which will give you some impression of what it is all about. You may think that it is an ugly photograph. I did not take it, however. It was issued by the Air League, so I cannot be blamed if it does not appeal to your Lordships' æsthetic senses.

My approach to the question of whether this memorial is objectionable or not does not depend on whether or not it is a work of art; it is based entirely on whether or not it is a suitable memorial. If we start arguing about art we always get bogged down in a mass of complications. Art is a funny thing, my Lords. As your Lordships know, there are many people who like statues of women with a porthole in their stomach and no face. The other day I saw a picture of some most disagreeable apples sold for thousands of pounds because it was said that they had a spiritual appeal. The other day there was a report of a gorilla which painted. He sold paintings very successfully—until it was discovered that it was a gorilla that was painting them! I am reminded of two people looking at the two yachts which were about to compete in the America's Cup—the "Sceptre" and the "Columbia". As they looked at them, somebody said, "One of them must be right; they cannot both be right." In this respect, if you put a Rembrandt against a Picasso you would be entitled to say the same thing—one of them must be right. It is not for me, of course, to say which is right—that is a matter for the expert artist. All I can say about art is that it is all good clean fun, with the art dealer and the art critic in the wings laughing up their sleeves. There, I think we will leave it.

But I want to impress upon your Lordships that people feel strongly about the suitability of this object. You must remember that this feat was achieved by an airship—something that we shall probably never see again. Does the picture convey to your Lordships any message at all about an airship, or does it convey to you the fact that it crossed the Atlantic? I must tell your Lordships that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who is ill, asks me to express his regret that he is not here. He had prepared a full speech on the subject, which he regards as most important.

Except for the Air League, who have got themselves manœuvred into this position, the whole aeronautical world is against the idea of putting into London Airport a full-sized object such as we are talking about, and it is on that particular point that I want to say some words later. I would ask your Lordships to remember that I am not arguing whether or not this is a work of art. If it is a work of art then treasure it, do what you like with it: put it in the Tate Gallery, among the other objects there, if you want to treasure it. All I say is: do not put it at London Airport. I say with confidence that if we put it at London Airport not one person in 100 million, as they see this thing for the first time, will have the smallest idea of what it is about.

If it is a memorial to the crossing of the Atlantic by an airship should it not be at least something which reminds people of the brave facts of the past? I venture to question the propriety of the action of the Air League, who derive funds from the public, in getting us into this controversial field of modern art, trying to foist upon us an object which is disliked and found unsuitable by all aeronautical bodies—and even by those who subscribed the money to have a memorial made. Their reaction is, of course, their own affair, but it will be the cause of great loss of confidence, subscriptions and support, and I find that thought very deplorable.

All I am here to do is to ask Her Majesty's Government to think again about having this object put in London Airport. I should like to read your Lordships a letter from the head of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, so that your Lordships may know what the ordinary airman thinks about this. He writes: On behalf of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, I have been asked to express the feeling of airmen on the memorial to the Atlantic flight of the airship R.34, which it is proposed to erect at London Airport. Freeman of the Guild constitute a large body of the airmen of this country, engaged in flying British aircraft to and from all corners of the world—transport pilots, test pilots, aerial work pilots, pilot instructors, air navigators and even ex-airship pilots. We are not concerned with modern or any other art theories, though most of us would express our opinion of what is now offered to us as art in emphatic terms of disapprobation. We ask—what has modern art to do with us? Is this memorial to commemorate a passing phase in art and to advertise the artist, or is it to commemorate the feat of British airmen and the men who built the ship which carried them twice across the Atlantic? We knew these men. They were of us. We feel that we have not only a right but a duty to speak for them, and we feel intensely that this monstrous proposal is an outrage to their memories. The matter is made far worse by the proposed location of this ' work of art' at London Airport, where the flight of Alcock and Whitton Brown is already worthily commemorated. London Airport means something of peculiar import to the airman which no one else can share. To the passenger it is merely a station; to the architect and the engineer who built it, it is an achievement in functional construction; to many a place of business; but to the airman it is the harbour from which he sets forth and the haven to which he returns—mayhap after a stormy flight across the Atlantic such as this useless and unbeautiful thing is designed to commemorate. The argument we have seen, that art should be left to artists, who alone can evaluate it, is quite beside the point in the context of this proposal. We in the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators know the spirit of the men whose memory is to be commemorated, and we believe that we have an equal appreciation, with others, of the significance of the event; and we hope that public opinion will stop the perpetration of this outrage. My Lords, I do not think the case could have been put better than in that letter, and it comes from the organisation which represents the active airmen of to-day. There is little more that I can say. I believe that the Minister is in a difficult position, but I should like him to tell us later in the debate, if he can, whether, even if he is powerless to stop this proposed action, he will at least make it clear to the Air League that they are doing something against the wishes not only of this House but of all aeronautical bodies in this country. I beg to move for Papers.

3.26 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend who, as Secretary of State for Air soon after the First World War, had a great deal to do with the world of airships. Looking back, I can say that, of all the romantic phases with which I had to do, the development of airships, even though eventually it may have seemed to fail, was the most romantic. I well remember some of the men who flew in the R.34, and still more the men who flew in subsequent airships. They were a devoted and imaginative company who believed they were carrying out a great mission that was to transform the history of the world. I make that comment because it seems to me to show how entirely out of sympathy with that kind of spirit is the object that my noble friend has just been describing. I can well understand that the sculptor did not want it displayed in either House.

I do not want to go into the question of whether modern art is better or worse than more conventional art. All I wish to emphasise, and emphasise strongly, is that, as the noble Lord has said, this design is entirely out of keeping with the occasion it is desired to commemorate. I hope, therefore, that the House will not be deflected by any such answer as that this matter has gone too far and that Her Majesty's Government cannot now do anything about it. Moreover, I should have thought that the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation is in the nature of being the landlord of London Airport and that even at the last minute he can say: "No, we will not have this thing." I therefore hope that the result of the debate this afternoon will be that it will be said that we do not want this object at London Airport, and that, whatever the position which may have been reached, we wish not only that the question should be reconsidered but that any decision which has been taken in favour of it should now be changed. I need not say anything more, because each noble Lord, on looking at this photograph, can say for himself whether or not he thinks it is a suitable monument to a body of very romantic and gallant young men who thirty-nine years ago achieved very great success, who by all means deserve a monument in London, if necessary at London Airport, but who do not deserve to have their memory perpetuated by this ugly object.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words against this Motion. May I say at the outset how glad I am that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, has put it down on the Order Paper, as I think it has given the House a chance to ventilate this matter. I do not know what your Lordships will feel about the Motion, but in listening to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, I felt, if I may say so with respect, that he was utterly wrong. Indeed, so far as the opinion outside this House is concerned he has a very authoritative body of people of informed opinion against him. For example, there is the Council of the Air League who commissioned this work—and a very imaginative commission I think it was. There is the Royal Fine Art Commission, appointed for this kind of purpose, and on which sit a very distinguished body of people. Thirdly, there is the architect of London Airport who, I believe, has given his approval to the sculpture.

The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, said that the sculptor, Lynn Chadwick, was recommended by an art dealer. If I may say so with respect, I do not think that that information is quite correct. The sculptor was recommended by a senior official of the Victoria and Albert Museum. There is, of course, nothing surprising in this. Over a fairly long period of interest in the arts I have found that it is those people who have the fullest and widest acquaintance with art of many different periods who are most able to appreciate much of the art that is produced to-day. It is the man who has looked longest and closest and with the deepest appreciation at Romanesque sculpture who is able to see the greatness in the sculpture of Henry Moore. Some of the best lectures I ever heard in my life on Picasso, an artist who was mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, were by our leading authority on Poussin.

The flavour of this Motion is, I think, slightly old-fashioned, because I thought that these attacks on so-called modern art were over and done with. I was taught many years ago that there is no such thing as modern art; there is only art, good art or bad art. Most great art is original. A good deal of it has produced attacks when it was first shown. There is nothing new in this; it has been going on for a great many years, at any rate since the Italian Renaissance. Even Michelangelo's David was stoned when it was first erected. Then one remembers those late 19th century French painters whose work fetches such large sums at auction sales to-day. Many of those provoked the strongest attacks and people used to feel most passionately that they were being insulted, personally insulted, when they were first shown. When Van Gogh was first shown at the beginning of this century people used to go and laugh at his work. Now, fifty years later, there were so many people trying to get into the wonderful Van Gogh exhibition at the Tate Gallery that there were queues all down the Embankment. Here is an artist who, I suppose, has probably given more pleasure to more people than almost any other artist who has ever lived.

The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, said that the art dealers (I am trying to recall his words correctly) and the art critics were constantly laughing up their sleeves. My Lords, I do not think that that is fair, if I may say so. I have known a great many artists, art critics and art dealers in my life and I believe that they are sincere people with a great love and a profound knowledge of their subject, and I do not think it is fair to accuse them in this House of being charlatans. It is thus obvious, I think, that after a period of say, thirty to fifty years, art which is often attacked when first produced then becomes deeply appreciated. There were those French impressionists who were attacked more than fifty years ago; now the only attacks are on successive Governments for not having had the foresight and the generosity to purchase their works for public collections when they were still obtainable at reasonable prices.

With regard to the sculptor of this particular memorial, Lynn Chadwick, I notice that the Motion asks the Government whether they consider that it is … a suitable object for exhibition … as an example … of British culture". My Lords, I think the mover of this Motion is really rather behind the times, because this particular sculptor is recognised in many foreign countries as one of our leading sculptors. In fact, I think we can be proud of his work as an example of British culture. At the Biennale Exhibition, the international exhibition in Venice, two years ago, he won an international award in competition against all the other competitors, sculptors from every country in the world. The judges were not just a few eccentric people, but curators and ministers, people with official positions from various countries. They included, amongst others, the Director of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chief Inspector of Fine Arts in France, and also the Belgian Minister of Culture. All these gentlemen, sitting on this jury, considered that this particular sculptor was the one, out of all those working throughout the world to-day, who was the most qualified to receive an international award.

With regard to this particular commission, I feel that he is well qualified to carry it out. He was, I understand, a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm during the war, and for my part I consider, from what one can tell from the model, that it well exemplifies the spirit of the memorial. The model itself is, I think, impressive; but one has to remember that it must be considered only as a model and viewed against a suitable background. The sculptor is probably right in refusing to allow it to be exhibited in your Lordships' House, because I think it would really be better to accept his offer to show the completed work at the Tate Gallery early next year when, I understand, it will be finished. Unless one is trained to look at these things, I think it is very difficult to imagine what the finished work would be like from this small-scale model. I suppose that the noble Lord who moved this Motion can tell what a jet airliner will look like from a blueprint, but for my part I should not have the remotest idea. I think, further, that this photograph does not give a good idea. Photographs very rarely give good ideas of works of art. They distort the scale and they distort the lighting, as this one has done. For instance, it gives the impression that there is a hole right through it, when this is not the case at all.

But, my Lords, better than this I think would be to let well alone. We are told that to-day the private patron has virtually disappeared—I do not think this is entirely true, but it is almost true—and that his place must be taken by the public body. Here is a public body which has shown, I think, remarkable enterprise in commissioning this particular work, and it is deserving of all support, because I feel that in the future this work will come to be accepted, just as so many works of art in the past which were attacked have been accepted, and that future generations will indeed be grateful.


Before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that I am interested in his analogies. Could he tell the House whether Michelangelo's David has a horse's head growing on its neck? And if it has not, why not?


I think, my Lords, it would be a little difficult for me to answer for Michelangelo. The point I was trying to make—and with your Lordships' permission I should like to repeat it—was that works of art which are accepted to-day were often not accepted when they were first shown to the public. That has nothing whatever to do with the style in which they were painted or sculpted.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I rise, only for a moment or two, because I happen to be President of an Association which endeavours to look after the interests of airline officers, and I feel that perhaps it is my duty to represent to your Lordships the extreme indignation which many of the members of that Association feel over the matter which we are discussing to-day. They are men who are proud, as they have a right to be, of their profession; they are proud of the pioneering side of it, and they do feel the indignation of which my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara has spoken in regard to what I can only call this monstrosity which is going to be used to commemorate one of the greatest feats in aviation. I also take particular pleasure in supporting my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara in this matter, remembering, as I do, and have good reason to do, the immense services which he has rendered to civil aviation. Perhaps the noble Lord will not be surprised that his bringing forward this Motion has called to my mind an old colleague of ours in another place, Admiral Murray Sueter, who had such a great deal to do with the pioneering work on airships and who, I am bound to say, I felt met with a very inadequate reward for his services in that field.

I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, with his usual adroitness and in his most delightful manner, said that he was not going to enter upon the question of art and, having said that, then proceeded to give us what I can only call his extremely blistering views on what is termed "modern art". I could not possibly disagree more than I do with what he said in that respect, but I entirely agree with him about the utter unsuitability of the memorial which is proposed. It would be difficult to imagine anything more completely unsuitable than this proposed memorial, and I hope that those who guide the fortunes of the Air League, where they do a very fine job indeed, will realise that resentment is felt against one of the greatest feats of aviation being commemorated in such an unworthy and unsuitable manner. I further hope that Her Majesty's Government may feel able to pay some attention to the request of the noble Lord that even at this hour the matter may be reconsidered.

May I, in conclusion, say one personal word? I feel that I have a personal interest in this matter because, although it was a very long time ago, it fell to my lot to have the privilege of opening London Airport, and I have watched since with admiration the development of that Airport and of the very fine and suitable architecture which has sprung up there. On that account I feel my own personal share of indignation that it should be contemplated that such a monstrosity should be put up in that magnificent airport, which is increasingly now the gateway through which the people of the world come to this country. I most strongly and warmly support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, the reason I am taking part in this debate is that I happen to be a friend of a very distinguished man who took part in the building of this airship. Not only did he do that, but he went in it to the other side of the Atlantic and came back in it. I must endorse most strongly every word that has been said against using this particular model (shall I call it) of—I leave it to the House to determine what to call it. It has already been called pretty severe names, and quite properly so: but to give it a name which would be understood by the ordinary man and woman in the street seems to me impossible.

R.34's Atlantic crossing was an achievement which warrants the most splendid memorial—one as to which there is no mistake about its identity; one that will be put in a place where it can be seen quite easily by a great many people, and one which will recall to their minds the great achievement of that year. This model—but one cannot call it a model. I was surprised at Lord Strabolgi. I tried to get into his mind to see what he meant, but I am bound to say that I could not do it. I feel that the House should indicate most strongly that we do not approve of this memorial to one of the greatest achievements of all time by our airmen. I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara will go to a Division if his Motion is refused, but I should willingly go into the Lobby in favour of chucking this thing out, neck and crop.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, I have one purpose, and one purpose only, in making a short contribution to this debate, which touches so closely my own profession of the practice of the art of architecture. We architects owe a deep debt of gratitude to sculptors for their mastery of form and texture, which have added gifts of incalculable worth to the adornment of the buildings which we design and their fittings.

It is a coincidence for me, if I may mention my personal affairs in your Lordships' House, that this debate should occur to-day, because this morning I have been at a building committee concerning a college at Oxford which I am building, and a model, a maquette, of a piece of monumental sculpture for that college was approved. In fact, the maquette is at the moment in my car outside your Lordships' House. Perhaps your Lordships would further forgive me if I recall, in passing, that I have myself produced some remarkably immature pieces of sculpture. I have worked in clay from the living model. So I have gained at least some insight into the host of difficulties that beset sculptors, and I can sympathise with the desire of some of them to break away from the bonds of truth and exactitude. If this has led to as strenuous a controversy as I think there is in art as a whole, it is a healthy sign. Art would be in poor shape indeed if it did not rouse these lively feelings on each side, though, in passing, I must regret that the conventional opinions of tradition are not better ranged against the publicity-guided missiles of mere sensationalism.

But it is not on the question of the wide divergence of opinion between conventional and experimental that I wish to speak. I rise, as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, has done this afternoon, to stress the importance of the proper relation between any artifact and its location and purpose. What is the reason for this memorial at London Airport? It is to record in lasting fashion a moment in aerial progress which was achieved by no archaic means nor by any of current contrivance. It has already a certain period interest about it, and it is unlikely, I believe, to be further developed. But an airship, as such, is not particularly sensational or alarming in appearance. It accommodates itself to the element in which it floats, instead of riding jet-shod as the modern variant does.

I cannot be persuaded that this piece of sculpture can ever establish this stage of aviation or bring out the success of this particular project. It was most certainly a successful venture, not a disaster. Therefore, I feel that the sculpture should be, in appearance, an easily understood reassurance to the multitudes of not particularly perceptive travellers who come into London Airport. If, at the same time, it should add something of beauty to please and make happy those multitudes who will continue to arrive in increasing number, then all to the good. Perhaps a touch of gaiety would not be amiss for those of us who have sought it in the unlovely pilgrimage along the Great West Road. I see nothing here for tears. There is no hint of the ominous which this model seems to bring out. The model, somehow, is sinister and depressing. I came away with a feeling of depression after I had spent a long time yesterday looking at the maquette, which I was pleased to be allowed to see. Somehow it does not uplift as I feel most strongly it should do.

I also feel that it is too obscure and altogether inappropriate for a public sculpture. I am told that there is to be a plaque underneath describing the exploit and explaining perhaps what the piece of sculpture above means. I feel that the purpose of sculpture should be sufficiently apparent to a normal person, so that a long description of it should not be necessary. I was reminded of a verse by Benjamin Warfield, which perhaps I may quote: There is a place for everything In earth or sky or sea, Where it may find its proper use And of advantage be. I do not feel that this piece of sculpture could be of advantage at Heath Row.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I rise for a few minutes to support the Motion of my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara. I believe that in all that has been said during this debate the most telling thing was the letter from the Master of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, a body of professional people whose lives are dedicated to the furtherance of the craft of airmanship and of the work of those who build the aircraft. It would surely be unwise not to consider seriously what they say in relation to the suitability or unsuitability of what my noble friend Lord Teviot could not give a name to and left to your Lordships to describe.

In looking at the photograph, I find it extremely difficult to know whether it is animal, vegetable or mineral, or male, female or neuter. I think one might say that its affinity to the men who did the job in this airship and flew it, to the people who designed and constructed it, as well as to the people who are flying and constructing our aircraft today, and those who are carried by them, plays a great part in deciding the suitability of the memorial that should go at London Airport. I certainly should not like—and I am sure your Lordships feel the same—to be carried in a thing like this. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has said that the senior official of the Victoria and Albert Museum recommended a sculptor, and he may be able to find a place for it in the museum.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but they have already some of his work there.


No doubt they will be very pleased to have another example.

I was gratified to hear my noble friend Lord Mottistone with all his professional experience, speak as he did. He clearly put the relationship of what should be to do with the air in relation to what the public expect to see—not something that is quite frightening and horrible. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will find some method of preventing this thing going to London Airport. After all, my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation can say what shall or shall not go on to the tarmac at London Airport, and therefore I should have thought that there would be no difficulty about his saying, "I am afraid we cannot have this". If I get the feeling of the House correctly, from what I have heard to-day and from the approval I have heard of certain things said in the speeches, I hope that my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara, if he is not satisfied with the reply that he receives, will divide the House on his Motion. I am sure that, if he does so, he will find the majority of your Lordships behind him.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, as a former Air Minister, both Service and civil, I should like to reinforce the appeal which has been made by my two old friends Lord Brabazon of Tara and Lord Templewood. I am not going to express any opinion of my own on what I believe is known as non-representational art. But purely on the artistic side I am quite content to range myself with my noble friend Lord Mottistone, than whom there could not conceivably be in this House, or almost, I think, outside it, a greater authority on what is suitable. He has tremendous achievements to his credit, both ancient and modern, and he can appraise, as perhaps none of us can, certainly from a photograph, how this thing is likely to look when it is put up. I should hesitate for a long time, even if I liked the thing, from going contrary to his judgment.

But I base my appeal to the Minister on quite a different issue. Even if this thing (I beg its pardon: this chosen instrument—that is the Civil Aviation expression) is something of great artistic merit, I do not think a memorial ought to be put up which is disagreeable and distasteful to the majority of people who are most directly concerned. Let me take a simple analogy. Happily, this airship achieved two triumphs, although the successor, unfortunately, came to great disaster. But let me take a simple example. If we are putting up a war memorial in our village, would anybody in his senses dream of putting up a memorial which was distasteful to the relatives of those who had fallen in the war? It seems to me that the matter is as simple as that. Surely, where a memorial is to be put up to celebrate this great triumph of air design and of airmanship, the best people to consult on whether it is suitable are those who were associated with the triumph. Some of them go back a very long way—some of the old pilots, as we have heard, are still there. Surely they are the people who can best say whether they think this is appropriate and suitable as a memorial.

I do not know what is the exact power of the Minister, but, speaking as a former Minister, I should have said that there was no doubt that nobody could put anything up on London Airport without the permission of the Minister. He is responsible for the design and the administration, and I am certain that it would require his assent. But even if that were not so plain, I am equally certain that if the Government, with the sense of this House behind them (and I am sure the feeling in the other place would be the same), said to whoever was proposing to do this that they ought to hold their hand until there had been more consideration, and possibly something like a referendum taken on whether this would be agreeable or not, that would be the right course to adopt. Once it goes up, of course, it will be too late. Therefore, I would beg the noble Earl who is to reply to say to-day, what I am sure he has the power and authority to say, on behalf of the Minister of Civil Aviation, that this scheme will not be proceeded with until a great deal more consideration has been given to it and a consensus of opinion can be assembled upon it.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships can have no doubt whatever of the strong feelings which the various speakers have on the subject of the Motion which is before us to-day. However, before I come to what I know your Lordships are waiting for me to say, with your Lordships' permission I should like to go over some of the past history of this memorial, some of which has already been dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, in his opening speech. As your Lordships know, the first crossing of the Atlantic was by Alcock and Brown on June 14, 1919, in a Vickers Vimy bomber. The second crossing of the Atlantic was by this airship, the R.34, in July of the same year, and was followed four days after by a return flight across the Atlantic.

The achievement of Alcock and Brown has already been fittingly commemorated by a memorial at London Airport which no doubt many of your Lordships have seen. The Air League of the British Empire, whose contribution to British aviation is too well known to your Lordships to need special commendation from me, decided a year or so ago that it was high time that the achievements of the R.34 should also be commemorated. As a result, they have already arranged for a commemorative tablet to be placed at East Fortune in Scotland, the airfield from which the R.34 took off on its historic flight. I understand that they have also arranged for a similar plaque to be placed at the former airfield at Mineola, Long Island, where the airship completed the first stage of its voyage. They have felt that there should also be a memorial at the most important airport in the United Kingdom, London Airport.

On learning that the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation planned to erect a new terminal building there for long-haul passengers, including many who will be embarking on Transatlantic flights, they considered that this building would be the best site for the display of such a memorial. The Air League, therefore, approached my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, who approved this proposal in principle. The Air League then commissioned Mr. Lynn Chadwick to prepare a design, which was in due course submitted to my right honourable friend for his acceptance. Incidentally, the model, if the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, will forgive me, or maquette as other noble Lords call it, can be seen at any time at the Savorin Galleries in Cork Street, not far from Bond Street.

In accordance with the practice of Government Departments, and of previous Governments, when there is a question of exhibiting sculpture in public places, my right honourable friend consulted the Royal Fine Art Commission, who are ready to accept the memorial in this form. My right honourable friend thereupon informed the Air League that a place would be found for Mr. Lynn Chadwick's memorial at London Airport, in the event that they decided to go forward with this proposal. My right honourable friend is aware that the present design—which, incidentally, I am informed, in full scale will be only 8 feet, and not 14 feet, high—has been the target of hostile criticism in the Press, though I should like to say here, in all fairness to the sculptor, that the photograph, I consider, does no justice to the maquette itself.

As your Lordships have heard, the criticism is broadly of two kinds: that the sculpture has no intrinsic merit and, I think more important in your Lordships' eyes, that the design is not suitable to commemorate R.34's achievement. I do not propose to enter into discussion of either of these two lines of criticism; I am in no way qualified to do so. I should, however, like to make the position of my right honourable friend perfectly clear. As regards the suitability of the design as a memorial to the R.34, my right honourable friend regards that as a matter within the discretion of the Air League itself, who have commissioned and will be paying for the memorial. Your Lordships should remember that the Air League is a body of great authority in British aviation. I should at this point mention that this particular design was not the original choice of the Air League. An earlier design which the Air League had put forward was considered by the Royal Fine Art Commission, to quote their own words, to be quite unworthy for the purpose for which it was designed. As regards the artistic merits of the design, my right honourable friend feels that, in accordance with normal governmental practice, which I have already mentioned, he must be guided by the advice of the Royal Fine Art Commission. My right honourable friend does not see how he can veto the Air League's proposal, in view of their standing in the aeronautical world. Here I must cross swords with the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, when he said in his speech that the whole of the air world is against it. How can it be, if the Air League itself is for it? Furthermore, it has the weight of the Royal Fine Art Commission behind it. But I understand that the Air League have recently reviewed the position in the light of the views expressed in the Press and elsewhere about the suitability of their design, and no doubt they will take note of the strong views that have been expressed in your Lordships' House today. I will bring your Lordships' views to the attention of my right honourable friend who has undertaken to advise the Air League of those views.

4.16 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl has made the most amazing speech. He has given me the impression—I do not know whether it is the same impression that he has given to other noble Lords—that we can do nothing because the Air League have come to a particular decision. Surely the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation is responsible to Parliament for an action of this kind, and we cannot accept as a fact that because the Air League like a particular design we and the Minister are bound to accept it. I know a little about the Air League myself. I was its President until a year ago, and I can tell noble Lords that if I had been still President no recommendation of this kind would have come from it. At any rate, I myself am not at all satisfied with the noble Earl's Answer. He said that the Air League will think again, but he has implied that if they come to the decision that they still like this design we shall be bound to accept it. I give him notice that I do not feel that I am bound to accept it at all, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara will divide, if he thinks fit to-night, and in any case will hold his hand perfectly free to continue his opposition to this scheme.


My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Viscount misunderstood what my noble friend said. Many of us have heard of this matter for the first time this afternoon. Certainly this is the first time I have seen a photograph of this object. My noble friend has indicated that my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation is not in an easy position here. Here is a private body which has commissioned a work of art; the Royal Fine Art Commission have approved it, and in the normal case my right honourable friend, or any Government Minister placed in that position, would give consent. There is no doubt that your Lordships have expressed an almost unanimous view which should be heard. My noble friend was saying that he would tell his right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation of the view of this House, and that the Air League would also take note of it. I will undertake, too, to tell my right honourable friend of this debate, and ask him whether he can consider this matter again in company with the Air League. We have all had this subject brought to our attention at rather short notice, and we should like time to think it over. I would certainly be prepared to do that.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Earl the Leader of the House, who has intervened with characteristic courtesy and sense of the House. But can we get the matter a little clearer? Obviously, the Minister will consider what has been said to-day. This, if I may say so, is entirely the Minister's responsibility. We have all, as Ministers, got into difficult positions when we have given a decision or permission, and then had to think again. Sometimes we have thought again because we have had second thoughts ourselves, and sometimes we have thought again because another place or this House has given us some good advice. None of us has felt in the least that he could not change his mind. The responsibility is the responsibility of the Minister. I believe the whole House would be satisfied if the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, could say that the Minister will not take a final and definite decision upon this matter until the House has had an opportunity of either approving or disapproving it. I think that would be fairer to the Minister, and I feel sure that the Leader of the House could give that undertaking.


I should rather like to clear the position, if I may. I am not absolutely clear, but I think the position is that the Minister has said that this statue may be put up. It might mean a revision of a decision; of that I am not absolutely certain. I cannot stand up here and say that the Minister will be willing to revise that decision; he may have taken it, and he may be unable to revise it. But I will undertake to ask him to have a look at the whole situation again, in the light of this debate. Then perhaps, if the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, cares to put down an Unstarred Question at a later date, after time for consideration, we could have another debate.


My Lords, I think the noble Earl the Leader of the House is fortunate that I am such a docile man, because there is no doubt that, were I to go to a Division, I should win handsomely. But I appreciate the fact that my Motion is not a very clear-cut one. If I said that the Minister should do this or that, we might divide. With the assurance of the noble Earl the Leader of the House that he will use his forensic power to persuade a rather obstinate Minister to do the right thing, we will leave it; but if he does not do the right thing I reserve my right to bring up this question again, on a definite Motion, and divide upon it. With that I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.


My Lords, so long as I am not understood to accept that the noble Lord is docile or that the Minister is obstinate, I will certainly have a talk with my right honourable friend. But I can give no guarantee. If there is no satisfactory outcome for the noble Lord the Parliamentary procedures are open to him.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.