HL Deb 18 March 1987 vol 485 cc1418-21

2.40 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have received any request for the erection in London of a statue to commemorate the role of the late Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding in the Battle of Britain.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Skelmersdale)

My Lords, no formal request for such a monument has been received by Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I think the Minister will know that moves are being made to carry out this exercise, bearing in mind that on the result of that battle depended our future as a free and sovereign people. I ask him to urge the Government, if a request comes forward, to view it sympathetically in order to honour the name of the person who was the architect of that victory.

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords, I am well aware of the role of the late Air Chief Marshal in the Battle of Britain, but any monument, even to someone as distinguished as that, would have to be applied for in the normal way. For example, applicants would need to show that there was a sufficiently influential body of public opinion to support the proposal and to raise enough money to pay for the erection of the statue and its future maintenance.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the fact that many people recall the major part which the late gallant Lord played in securing our victory and survival in 1940? Can he not give an answer that is a little more encouraging?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I was only placing facts before the House. I have no doubt that the criteria I outlined in my supplementary answer to the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, will indeed be fulfilled.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, will the noble Lord recognise that many in this House would welcome proper recognition of the outstanding contribution made by the late Lord Dowding during the war? Will he also bear in mind that many of us who spent a lot of time on the beaches of Dunkirk wondering where the RAF was came to understand that it was Lord Dowding's determination to ensure that the RAF was intact that made possible the success of the Battle of Britain, which was probably the major contribution to victory?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes. I am very grateful to the noble Lord. Of course, he is absolutely right, although I personally was not involved. Indeed, I was not born at the time. Nonetheless, the expression of solidarity, if I may so describe it, which has come from all parts of the House today will be borne in mind by my right honourable friend.

Lord Annan

My Lords, certainly the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, is right in saying that a public subscription has to be raised for a monument of this kind. But is it not singularly discouraging to say that an additional sum is required for the maintenance of the statue?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, no, I do not think it is. If the Government were to put up a monument the Government would be expected to pay for it, and if a foreign government were to put up a monument that foreign government would be expected to pay for it. If, therefore, a public subscription is raised, I see nothing wrong with the public subscription also covering the cost of maintenance.

Lord Molson

My Lords, is it not the case that public funds are available for maintaining statues all over London to commemorate distinguished soldiers, statesmen and other people? Surely they are paid for from the estimates of the department of my noble friend.

Lord Skelmersdale

Not entirely, my Lords. The position is, I understand, that statues which are erected by the Government, acting in that capacity, are indeed paid for out of public funds. Other statues are paid for by those who wish to erect them.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, has the noble Lord the Minister grasped the feeling of the House on this particular subject? I am sure that he has. Would he be good enough to convey it to the responsible source in the Cabinet?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes, I think I have grasped the essential facts of the discussion. I have said that I will relay those facts to my right honourable friend. I am not sure that I can do any better.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the open streets of our towns and Cities are cluttered with statues, many of which represent ladies and gentlemen forgotten many, many years ago? Could he not consider appointing a commission which might meet in each area, say every 25 years, to look at all statues, retaining some, discarding others or deciding upon those that should be replaced when the opportunity occurs?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I do not think I should like to comment on that suggestion off the cuff. I would however point out that once applicants have found a site they must obtain the consent of its owners. They also need planning permission and then the consent of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment under the Public Statues (Metropolis) Act 1854 if the site is in a public place.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that had it not been for Lord Dowding there is every possibility that he might not have been born and that his attitude today makes some of us doubt whether that would have been a very bad thing?

Noble Lords


Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, yes, it is a shame, and I should not have said it. But, really, the noble Lord might take a little more sympathetic attitude and show a little enthusiasm. Is he not aware that a great many people here who were alive at the time are deeply conscious of the debt we owe to the leadership of the late Lord Dowding?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord should feel that way. I do not believe that I have been irresponsible or unresponsive in answering this Question.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it would cause a certain amount of upset if the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Craigton was taken too seriously by Her Majesty's Government? Will my noble friend consider that we are a monarchy, that we have been since 1660—and indeed we were before then—and that Oliver Cromwell's statue still reigns supreme in a very important place? Would it not be very invidious if we started taking down statues because of our dislike of people?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, my noble friend, not for the first time, has put his finger squarely on the point. That is why I did not answer my noble friend Lord Craigton off the cuff.

Lord Somers

My Lords, I would not suggest that the Government are responsible for the erection of the statue of Richard Coeur de Lion outside your Lordships' House. But who has responsibility for its maintenance?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the responsibility is under the Public Statues (Metropolis) Act and ultimately is with my right honourable friend.

Lord Morris

My Lords, when my noble friend further considers this matter—if it is for him to consider it further—will he note that there is an admirable space between the statues of Lord Tedder and Lord Trenchard in the Embankment Gardens behind the Ministry of Defence, which I always presumed was reserved for Lord Dowding?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am very interested by that suggestion.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am grateful for his somewhat encouraging reply? But does he not understand that the Battle of Britain was the first time that the Nazi war machine had been stopped and blunted, and it proved that it could be finally beaten? Does he not also understand that the winning of that battle ranks to us as a nation with Waterloo and Trafalgar in determining our future as a free and sovereign nation? That is why I am pressing the point as strongly as I possibly can.

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords. Of course I understand, and the noble Lord has had support all round the House for pressing this particular point.