Orders of the Day — Memorial to Field Marshal Smuts

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd July 1952.

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Considered in Committee.

[Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will give directions that a monument be erected at the public charge to the memory of the late Field Marshal Smuts, as an expression of the admiration of this House for his illustrious career and its gratitude for his devoted service to the Commonwealth, and to assure Her Majesty that this House will make good the expenses attending the same.—[Mr. Crookshank.]

4.37 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Eirene White Mrs Eirene White , Flintshire East

I am not quite clear whether, on this occasion, the same procedure is to be followed as that with regard to the memorial to President Roosevelt, in which case a Bill was later introduced. Possibly, on this occasion, there will be no need for legislation, as the circumstances are not quite analogous.

If that is so, there is all the more reason why we should raise at this stage the question of a possible site for the proposed memorial, because, otherwise it will be decided and there will be no chance of bringing to the notice of those responsible the feelings of some of us at any rate, in this part of the Committee, upon this matter.

I hope that, in choosing a site, a measure of tact and discretion will be shown. I say this because there have already been suggestions made in the public Press of a possible site, which I will mention in a moment, but about which there may be feelings among some of us. We in this country have every reason to be both grateful and appreciative of the work of the late Field Marshal in the Commonwealth and during two world wars. In these two respects, his work is very properly called illustrious, but I would draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that we have citizens in other countries of the Commonwealth who may, perhaps, have rather less reason for gratitude to the late Field Marshal.

It is, unfortunately, true, that, admirable as was his work in many respects, he did not always show in his domestic career the magnanimity which he displayed towards his former military opponents in this country. In dealing with Africans and with the coloured peoples and with those people in the Union of South Africa whose origins were in the Asian countries of the Commonwealth, his actions sometimes left something to be desired. I think it would be very unfortunate if, in choosing a site, we chose one which might be considered not quite appropriate by some of our fellow citizens in the Commonwealth. I say this because there have been suggestions in the Press that this monument might be placed in Parliament Square.

I would draw the attention of those who may be responsible to the fact that there is at least one position in Parliament Square which might be considered not quite appropriate for the purpose. There may be some members of the Commonwealth who would find it extremely incongruous to have a statue of Field Marshal Smuts placed in immediate proximity to that of Abraham Lincoln.

I hope, therefore, that while we express in a proper way our own appreciation of the work which the Field Marshal did in his relationship with this country, we shall bear in mind the possible feelings of other members of the Commonwealth in making our decision upon this matter.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Maldon

I should like to support very strongly what the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) has just said. I want actually to deal with an entirely different point, which I hope will also be in order, but I do feel—and many of us on this side feel—that it was necessary at some time in the course of these debates that what my hon. Friend has said, with such grace and discretion, should be said; otherwise, there might have been widespread misunderstanding in various parts of Africa, among millions of our fellow-citizens of the Commonwealth.

The other point which I would like to make is this. I hope that when this proposal is agreed to by Parliament, and when it is being considered in practice, considerable care will be taken with regard to the actual form and design of the memorial. My hon. Friend has already referred, in another connection, to the case of the memorial to President Roosevelt, and I know that the present Prime Minister himself took a great personal interest in the unfortunate controversy which arose about that memorial. I hope that it may be possible to avoid any such controversy in this case by having, if not a completely open competition, at any rate perhaps a limited competition for the design of the memorial—the statue or whatever it is to be—with well-accredited assessors to select the final form.

I say that without any disrespect to the eminent sculptor who sometimes seems to be regarded as the only sculptor who can ever be commissioned to create an important memorial for public display in this country. Such a commission should not always and automatically be given to the same sculptor, however distinguished and eminent. Younger sculptors also should have their chance of putting in designs for consideration. Although the Prime Minister is not with us at the moment, I hope that this point may be brought to his personal attention, because it is a matter in which he might well be interested.

4.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Doughty Mr Charles Doughty , East Surrey

I will say nothing about the last words spoken by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), because I know nothing about sculpture—I am sure that whatever design is produced by the Ministry of Works with the assistance of the hon. Member for Maldon will be of the best—but I rise to defend the name which has been slightly attacked today by the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White).

Field Marshal Smuts was one of the greatest members of the British Empire that has ever lived. Although he fought against us, he honourably helped us afterwards. He is also one of the greatest members that the Dominion of South Africa has ever had, and he has been of the greatest assistance to that Dominion. Whatever he did was for the best for that country—let us make no mistake about that—even if some of his actions may be criticised by those who are ill-informed.

Let us never forget that he knew the facts better than anyone else, and that in the years that he lived the Dominion of South Africa was one of the stars of the British Commonwealth. I hope that his memorial will be erected in a place of prominence in the County of London. Whether it be erected outside South Africa House—which, I think, would be an excellent place for it—or whether it be placed in some more prominent position, must be decided by those who have given more thought to the matter than I have.

But, wherever it is, Field Marshal Smuts deserves the best that this Empire can give him; he deserves the best site available in London for his memorial, whatever form it may take, so that any member of the British Empire, of whatever race, colour or creed he may be, may look upon that memorial with pride and do honour to a very great man and a very great member of the British Empire. I rise to protect his name against any slight that may inadvertently have been directed against it.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

I am not concerned with the merits or demerits of any statesman to whose memory it is desired to erect a memorial. The one point on which I should welcome some further elucidation is whether the monument to be erected at public expense must take the form of a sculptural representation of the individual in question. I ask that because London is already far too cluttered up with monuments of one kind and another.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Maldon

Far too few good ones.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

I should be prepared to accept for myself a kind of self-denying ordinance that before any new monument is erected one of the old ones should be removed. I think that would help to improve the appearance of London. After all, London is the heart of the Empire, the centre of a great Commonwealth, and we have the obligation to make quite sure, first of all, that if we want to erect a monument it should be of a suitable type, and, secondly, that an excessive number of monuments should not be allowed to deface the appearance of this Metropolis in which we are all interested.

We are not deciding here and now that the monument shall take the form of a sculptural representation of Field Marshal Smuts, and will the right hon. Gentleman consider the matter from the point of view of the number of monuments that already exist in London, some of which ought certainly to be removed. If the Minister were to say that two or three monuments are to be removed to make room for a better one in memory of Field Marshal Smuts, then I should be more inclined to support the Motion now before the House.

Photo of Captain Malcolm Bullock Captain Malcolm Bullock , Crosby

I wish to say a few words in support of what the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) has said. I think that London possesses some of the worst statues in the world, and as we grow older some of us regard many of them with horror. I hope that the Minister will seize this opportunity to give the work to some younger sculptor, that he may, perhaps, make it a matter of competition, and that we may have the opportunity of seeing the examples which are submitted.

As to the site, I hope that somewhere near Parliament Square can be found. There are empty spaces and no more fitting place could be found for a memorial to Field Marshal Smuts. I think it will have to be in the form of an effigy. We have had some terrible examples when we have not had effigies. An example which most of us see daily is the memorial to Queen Alexandra. It is an appalling fountain which does not even work. It has only a trickle of water: it represents nothing in particular and is altogether a very bad lapse.

I hope that a suitable young sculptor, somebody new, will be found. I will not mention names, because we all know the old hack sculptors who go round not only London but the provinces as well. I hope that it will be borne in mind that here is a great opportunity to give us something of which we shall all be proud and to the unveiling of which we can all look forward.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

I would not have risen had it not been for the remarks of the hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty). He seemed to imagine that it was rather out of place for my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) to suggest that there were aspects about this memorial which ought to be considered in deference to the feelings of others. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) that the hon. Lady handled the matter with considerable tact.

Anybody who has studied the subject knows that the opinion held in certain parts of the world about Field Marshal Smuts is not the opinion held here. Those other people hold their opinions with very deep sincerity indeed, and the statue would be incongruous if it were erected in any one of certain places. I hope that we shall have some tolerance in this matter. This gives me the opportunity of telling the hon. Member for Surrey, East how intolerant he is. The other Friday morning he was accorded the good will of the House to second a Motion which could have been counted out at any time.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I know what the hon. Member is referring to, but it cannot possibly arise at the present moment.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

If you will only listen to two more sentences, Sir Charles, I respectfully suggest that you will agree with me that what I am about to say is relevant. In the afternoon of that Friday my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) brought forward a Motion which affected coloured people.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I have ruled that reference out of order.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

With very great deference, after all the hon. Member for Surrey, East—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I have already ruled that out of order. It is not to be discussed.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

On that particular point no further point of order can arise. I have given my Ruling and it cannot be discussed.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

With great respect, Sir Charles, I was about to say, in extenuation—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

No extenuation is required. I have given my Ruling and it is perfectly fair.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Maldon

The hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) extenuated the colour bar.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

I will not return to that, except to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East was referring to the colour bar.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

I am not referring to the hon. Member, but to my hon. Friend. The hon. Member is far too sensitive. He thinks that I shall not abide by your Ruling, Sir Charles. My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East was referring to the colour bar, which to some of us and most civilised people—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I do not think that any point of order can possibly arise.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

The colour bar, to most civilised people, is as indecent as anti-Semitism, and anyone who, in any public place, attempts to impede any Measure which attempts to put down the colour bar is not the sort of person or hon. Member who can afford to lecture my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East. Before the hon. Member for Surrey, East suggests that Field Marshal Smuts was the final judge upon all matters that affect the colour bar he ought to consider his own intolerance as an hon. Member of the House of Commons.

Photo of Sir Barnett Stross Sir Barnett Stross , Stoke-on-Trent Central

We have heard today, and quite rightly, that in Britain it is possible to see some of the worst sculpture in the world. Some of us are inclined to believe that a good deal of it is in the House of Commons. There must be some reason why we have not been eminently successful in this country in the type of public memorial we have erected either in London or elsewhere. But that is no reason why the Minister should not listen most carefully to the suggestion made on both sides of the Committee that we should have at least a limited form of competition and give the younger men a chance. It may be that memorials tend to be ugly because our form of clothing is ugly and does not lend itself to sculpture.

Photo of Mr Charles Hobson Mr Charles Hobson , Keighley

It is improving with the hot weather.

Photo of Sir Barnett Stross Sir Barnett Stross , Stoke-on-Trent Central

It may be that sculpture will improve because the subject will look better. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nudists."] I cannot accept that the nude is eminently suitable for great men.

The Minister has a reputation for having some feeling for the fine arts and I know that he is personally interested. I only ask that he should take note specifically of what we are asking and not only take the normal, ordinary interest of a Minister in the subject but personal interest as a citizen. Can he give a guarantee that he will put this memorial up to a limited form of competition? If he will do that I think it will please all of us on both sides of the Committee. That is a modest request and I think that the whole Committee will be delighted if he says yes.

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

According to precedent it is rather unusual for any discussion to take place on a Motion of this kind, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government in general will be pleased to take note of the various points made by hon. Members during this debate.

It is not possible to say anything at this stage about the form or site of the monument which, after the Address is presented, we hope may be erected in due course. No one has any authority today. We are only asking for approval of this Motion in Committee because money is involved. The proposal was approved unanimously by the whole House the other day.

I do not think I can promise the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton, (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) that for every new statue erected in London another is to be removed. I do not think we are going into a system of statuary pairs in this matter. That, perhaps, would be going a little far. And whether there are a number of good or bad statues in London is a matter of opinion. One can only assume that at the time and by the person by whom they were erected, they were thought to be good or they would not have been put up at all. Tastes change, but this is neither the time nor the place, owing to lack of authority, to make a statement. All the points raised today will be considered.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Maldon

Will the right hon. Gentleman bring the matter to the notice of the Prime Minister in view of his personal interest in the Roosevelt memorial controversy?

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

Anything to do with a memorial to Field Marshal Smuts, who was one of the Prime Minister's best friends as well as one of the best friends this country has ever had, will, of course, be a matter for his immediate and personal consideration.

Question put, and agreed to nemine contradicente.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will give directions that a monument be erected at the public charge to the memory of the late Field Marshal Smuts, as an expression of the admiration of this House for his illustrious career and its gratitude for his devoted service to the Commonwealth, and to assure Her Majesty that this House will make good the expenses attending the same.

Resolution to be reported Tomorrow.