Field Marshal Smuts (Memorial)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th June 1951.

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Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Walthamstow West 12:00 am, 7th June 1951

With your permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I desire to make a statement.

I am satisfied, by representations which have been made to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), and by other views which have been expressed, 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 30 years and his services, as statesman, soldier and thinker, to the whole Commonwealth, were altogether outstanding.

The Government 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.

I 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 the House, and indeed the whole 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 tomorrow for private contributions to a fund intended to commemorate Field Marshal Smuts's 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.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Woodford

I am very glad indeed to have the opportunity of offering the Prime Minister our cordial support for the proposal which he has just made. It was a matter which required careful consideration. One has to have a just sense of proportion in all these matters and, of course, one cannot judge the proportion of the individual except in relation to the background of world affairs, all of which has to be considered in its entirety. The first 50 years of the 20th century have been among the most terrible that the human race has ever lived through, with two frightful world wars and immense disturbance and destruction of human life. On the other hand, they have contained the greatest promise for the future in the advance of science, knowledge and the broadening assembly of peoples in every way.

All that hangs in the balance now. No one can judge. Posterity alone can judge whether this has been a great age or one which preceded some vast disaster. But no one can, I think, doubt that on our present knowledge and view of the proportions of these matters, Jan Smuts played a great part and was a noble and outstanding figure in his faithful and courageous support of his own countrymen when they seemed to be opposed by overwhelming forces, and in his response to magnanimity which carried us forward along the road, and in all the work which he did and the play of his thoughts upon the movements of nations and peoples. In every way he seemed to be one of the most enlightened, courageous and noble minded men that we have known in these the first 50 years of the 20th century in which he played so prominent a part.

I am grateful that the Prime Minister should have taken this action. I am sure he will gather the full support of the House of Commons for what is done, and that this national tribute will be well supported and sustained by the arrangements which are being made to have a private subscription opened for a system of Commonwealth scholarships at Cambridge University, of which Jan Smuts was an undergraduate and a graduate, and of which, when he died, he was Chancellor.

Photo of Mr Clement Davies Mr Clement Davies , Montgomeryshire

May I be allowed, first of all, on behalf of my colleagues, to express our full concurrence with the proposal put forward by the Prime Minister? May I also express my high appreciation of the parts which have been played in this matter by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition?

It may be that there is no precedent for this proposal, but that should not weigh with us at all, for there was no precedent either for Jan Smuts. His life, his work, his recorded words and his deeds are now part of history. It is right that future generations, here in London, should see in the form of a statue the man whom we were privileged to know, and to see again the strong features, the perfectly shaped head and the virile bearing of this man, who was an inspiration to his fellow men throughout the whole of his long and varied career.

It is right that this statue should be provided by Parliament, not merely on behalf of Parliament and on behalf of the British people, but also on behalf of the peoples of the British Commonwealth. As General Smuts was a member of the War Cabinet in both the Great Wars, the proper place for it is in Parliament Square. Very rightly, it is also proposed to honour him at Cambridge. Her brilliant scholar of the early 90's, became, about 50 years later, her Chancellor. I hope that the response to the appeal that will be made from and on behalf of Cambridge will meet with the ready and generous response of the whole nation.