My Lords, the Government have no plans to introduce legislation concerning the use of war memorial gardens for entertainment purposes. It is for local authorities to take decisions on such matters where they own the land. In doing so, we would expect them to take into account the sensitivities of the local communities involved.
I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. This Question arises from an application for two months of corporate events in Trinity Square Gardens, a memorial in the City to the many hundreds of thousands of merchant seamen who lost their lives in the major wars. As noble Lords will know, this has generated widespread disgust. I congratulate the mayor and Tower Hamlets Council on rejecting this application in the past 24 hours, but can the Minister offer an opinion on whether it is appropriate that those who caused the financial crisis, often got bailed out by the taxpayer and are still awarding themselves mouth-watering bonuses should ever be allowed to dance around memorials like this?
My Lords, first, I should remind the House of my interest as I am still a serving officer in the Territorial Army. This is a Question about war memorials, not regulation of the City. But what I would say is that, when opposing the proposed event at Trinity Square Gardens, the Deputy Master of Trinity House, Rear Admiral Sir Jeremy de Halpert, wrote this:
"It is the tranquillity and character of the entire garden that delivers the respect and atmosphere for quiet contemplation and reflective memory of loved ones and comrades. There are only a few places which mark the selfless sacrifice of so many in the cause of the freedom we now enjoy".
Few could have expressed our sentiments better.
My Lords, I am a trustee of the War Memorials Trust and of course I deplore any inappropriate use of gardens and war memorials. At the same time, I am sure that it is not a matter that should be the subject of legislation. It is one for the custodians of the individual memorials, for local authorities and so on. That, after all, has brought the right decision in this case.
My Lords, I agree entirely with the sentiments of my noble friend. It is important to understand that nothing has gone wrong here. An event was proposed, it was considered and, quite rightly, it was determined that it was inappropriate.
My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Merchant Navy Association and president of the Merchant Navy Medal. At the annual service for seafarers at St Paul's yesterday, a large number of Merchant Navy and former Merchant Navy personnel spoke to me. I think that we have come to exactly the right conclusion about this affair.
Do the Government have any plans to celebrate appropriately the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic in which 25 per cent of the Merchant Navy sailors involved were killed, an unbelievably high percentage, and something that I fear is often forgotten by the nation?
My Lords, I cannot answer the noble Lord's question about the 70th anniversary, but I will write to him. I have an interest to declare in that for five years after the end of the war, my father served in the deep sea Merchant Navy. Even then, he still had plenty of exciting stories to tell.
My Lords, would it be possible to encourage a national programme in which schools adopt their local war memorial, thereby making youngsters more aware of our history and of the sacrifices made, as well as helping with maintenance?
My Lords, that is a very good idea. I am sure that schools can do so if they wish to. One of the gratifying things that I see on battlefield tours in Europe is coach loads of British schoolchildren doing what they should do and learning from the mistakes we have made in the past.
My Lords, as a good Conservative, I recommend legislation and regulation only when absolutely necessary.
My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to agree with me that the War Memorials Trust and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission do the most magnificent job for the people who fell in the world wars, those who lament the loss of their loved ones and also for us? It reminds us of the evils of war but makes us proud that we continue to look after the graves and war memorials.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that thanks to the late Fred Cleary there are approaching 250 gardens within the City of London? I acknowledge that some of them are in horse troughs and window boxes but there are a large number of alternative gardens which could be used for the purpose of the original application.