HL Deb 28 July 1964 vol 260 cc971-80

2.52 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I have it in command from the Queen to acquaint your Lordships that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purpose of the Bill, has consented to place Her interest, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. When your Lordships met on November 25 last year to pay tribute to the late President Kennedy we all felt a great sense of shock at the news of the assassination. The most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the feeling which was shared by millions in this country, and indeed throughout the world, that we must all do something to express our grief and to reaffirm our determination to live up to the ideals of President Kennedy. It immediately became clear that the British public would wish this feeling to be reflected in an appropriate national memorial to a man who had been so firm an ally and friend. Accordingly, the Government, with the agreement of the Opposition Parties, set up a Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Franks, to consider suggestions and to recommend what form a Memorial might take.

Early this year they recommended that the Memorial should take two forms: a plot of land at Runnymede, laid out simply, with a plinth and steps, should be given in perpetuity to the United States in memory of the President; and, in addition, a scholarship fund should be established for young men and women from this country to go, as undergraduates or graduates, some to Harvard University or Radcliffe College, some to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The acceptance of these proposals by all concerned was announced on March 25. The Lord Mayor of London readily offered to make the President Kennedy Memorial the object of a Lord Mayor's Appeal, and this was inaugurated in May. My Lords, I think we would all wish to say how grateful we are to him for his hard work. Contributions have been coming in from all parts of the country, but still more are needed if the scholarship project is to be soundly based, and I hope that this will serve as a further reminder of the appeal, which I commend to your Lordships.

Meanwhile, a small Committee of three—of which the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, was Chairman—had been entrusted with the task of supervising how the Memorial should be put into effect. It is thanks to their efforts that the plans are now so well advanced. Their proposal was that a body of eleven Trustees, selected from this country and the United States, should be set up both to manage the plot of land at Runnymede and to run the scholarship scheme. Two of these, the Governor of the Bank of England and the Lord Mayor of London, would be ex officio; six would be appointed by the Prime Minister, and one each by the President of the United States, the President of Harvard University and the President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

These suggestions were welcomed by all concerned and a Trust Deed was executed on July 4—a very appropriate date. All the American Trustees have already been appointed, and so have three of the Prime Minister's nominees. These latter include two Members of your Lordships' House, the noble Lords, Lord Harlech and Lord Sherfield, and my right honourable friend Mr. Harold Macmillan. It is intended that, the three remaining British Trustees will represent British educational institutions.

The Committee headed by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, studied all possible sites at Runnymede and decided in favour of a small plot of land which at present forms part of the Crown Estate. Her Majesty the Queen has expressed Her wish that the land should be transferred to the United States as a gift. It is necessary to make statutory provision for such a transfer since the Crown Estate Commissioners are normally obliged to get the best price for any alienation of Crown Estate land. Clause 1 of the Bill accordingly makes provision for this. It also provides for the land, though vested in the United States, to be held in perpetuity under the control and management of the Trustees for the use and enjoyment of the public. Clause 2 gives the Trustees all the rights and powers of an absolute owner of the land, so that there is no hindrance to their management.

I think your Lordships will agree that the recommendations of the Committee which met under the noble Lord, Lord Franks, as embodied in this Bill and in the Trust Deed provide a proper tribute to the late President's memory. These recommendations represent the two most striking facets of his character and life, the consistently refreshing energy which he brought to the affairs of the world, and the solid and lasting qualities of the ideals for which he stood. It is particularly appropriate that these ideals of liberty, equality and tolerance should be commemorated at Runnymede from where so many of our own traditions of freedom are drawn. It is therefore my privilege to commend the purpose of the Bill to your Lordships, and to ask for your Lordships' co-operation in giving expression to the nation's tribute to the late President Kennedy. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Carrington.)

2.58 p.m.


My Lords, I desire to associate myself and all my colleagues with the expressions which have been made by the Leader of the House with regard to the Memorial which is to be set up in respect of the late President John F. Kennedy. I said a few words on the occasion of his passing away and I do not wish to delay your Lordships at the present moment at any length, but I am bound to say that one feels an enormous sympathy with anybody who becomes President of the great American Republic at the present time or who has become President in recent years. The tasks have been stupendous. Great issues which have been with them for a very long time have had to be faced, and there was something quite magnificent about the way in which John F. Kennedy faced up to the practical ignoring, for decades, in many parts of the United States of what became embodied in the United Nations' Charter as the Article on "Human Rights". One cannot but think on an occasion such as this that there was a man who became a martyr to his loyal and continued support of the Bill of Rights, which was really to bring his nation into line with the provisions of the United Nations Charter in relation to human rights.

The Memorial which is to be set up is, I think, a very fine way in which our commemoration should be made, and we are grateful to Her Majesty for the statement which was conveyed to the House by the Leader of the House because it affects some land which she is prepared to give up for purposes connected with the Memorial. I note what the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, says about the appointment of Trustees. They are all excellent choices; but it would be rather nice if perhaps at some other time the Trustees would include, say, a representative or representatives of other parts of the great political democracy in this country. We shall never forget—none of us who have lived through these last decades—the great services which were rendered by America to ourselves, perhaps at the beginning of the war especially, and which we received from them at different times. I pray that nothing may ever arise which will be likely to divide the two great peoples, British and American, from constant co-operation for these great ideals for which John F. Kennedy stood.

3.0 p.m.


My Lords, I have no hesitation whatever in giving the full support of my Party and myself to this Bill to commemorate a very great man, and I would echo the thanks we all feel to Her Majesty the Queen for enabling this to be put forward and achieved in such a very imaginative way. We have on another occasion paid our tributes to the late President Kennedy, and I hope that the deep sincerity with which those were expressed has penetrated across the Atlantic to Mrs. Kennedy, his family and the people of America, who I sincerely hope know how deeply we felt at their loss and the world's loss.

The present proposal to inaugurate this Memorial has a two-fold aspect in a way. It is in memoriam of a great man, of the things he stood for and the ideals he held; in another way, it is a symbol of our hopes of what he might have done had he been spared to live. For that reason I believe that we are quite right in giving such a treasured part of this country of ours to the image of a man, to the life of a man and the possible future life of a man who did not continue his life in a great cause. We are proud to be able to do this and trust that our American friends will again see how very sincerely we feel in this matter.

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, it had not been my intention to address your Lordships' House so soon after entering it and I crave your indulgence, but the project which is enshrined in this Bill is one which I have had some small part in furthering and one which is close to my heart. As has been said, Lord Franks' Committee made some recommendations which were widely accepted, but they were in general terms and some practical work was necessary so that the Lord Mayor's Appeal could be launched, a Bill could be introduced into Parliament and a Trust set up. I was asked to undertake this task, and in it I had great assistance from my two colleagues, the United States Ambassador and Sir Humphrey Mynors.

One of our main tasks was to select and secure a site at Runnymede, and the operative part of this Bill deals with this. The idea of a Memorial at Runnymede was, I think, an appropriate and indeed an imaginative one. But in practice it was not easy to find a suitable place. We were, in the event, fortunate in our quest. We have found a spot on Crown land which is accessible but, at the same time, secluded and unspoiled. It commands a fine view over the Mede and over Runnymede Island and it adjoins National Trust land over which there will be free access to it.

In securing and selecting this site we have had the help of a great number of people and organisations—the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and its officials, the Chairman and officials of the National Trust, the Crown Estate Commissioners, the local authorities, who quickly gave outline planning permission, the Crown tenant and sub-tenant, who readily agreed to give up their leases; and finally the lawyers of the United States and British Governments, who quickly found a way through some of the problems involved in the transfer of this land. And all this work was crowned by the generous gesture of Her Majesty the Queen in giving this land to the United States Government.

The design of the Memorial is obviously of critical importance. The concept on which the architect, Mr. Geoffrey Jellicoe, is working is a very simple one. It is to preserve to the greatest possible extent the natural beauty of the setting; to limit the monumental treatment to the minimum; and to make the Memorial a place to which visitors can go for quiet contemplation and repose. The final designs will, of course, be approved by the Trustees, with the consent of the Royal Fine Art Commission and the local authorities, and it is hoped that the Memorial will be ready for dedication by the time of the 750th anniversary of the signing of Magna Charta in June of next year.

The idea of a Memorial at Runnymede is rich in symbolism, but it is simple and straightforward in execution, and it will absorb only a very small part of the funds which are being raised by public subscription. The great bulk of them will be available for the scholarships at the three centres of learning in Massachusetts. The conditions for the scholarships and the terms on which they are held will be a matter for the Trustees, but I think I can say that it was heartening to read the warm and enthusiastic terms in which the Presidents of Harvard, Radcliffe and M.I.T. welcomed these proposals, and to observe the alacrity with which they moved to appoint Trustees to represent their interests. Harvard, which for this purpose represents Radcliffe, has appointed Mr. Nathaniel Davis. M.I.T. has appointed Mr. David Shepard. Both are distinguished alumni of their universities, both have wide knowledge of this country, and both are well known to many people here.

I have heard it said that this scholarship scheme is not a very exciting proposal; that it is just one more scheme for the founding of scholarships on one side of the Atlantic or another, and that it lacks originality. I do not myself agree with that view. I think that there is a great deal more scope for the establishment of such scholarships, particularly in a Westward direction, and I cannot think of a more appropriate way of commemorating a young President who had outstanding intellectual gifts than the foundation of scholarships at his own University and at the great scientific institute across the river.

There is one more point. There is to be established in Boston by the Kennedy family a Museum and Archive in commemoration of the late President, and to this is to be added an Institute which is to serve as a centre of study for Kennedy Scholars from the United States and from all over the world and as a place where they can meet. It has been in our minds from the outset that Kennedy Scholars from this country should visit and study at this Institute when it is established. I have no doubt whatever that arrangements will be made at the earliest opportunity by the universities where these scholars are studying, with the authorities of the Kennedy Institute, to provide for such visits and study, and that these arrangements will, if necessary, be approved by the Kennedy Memorial Trustees.

As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, the scope of this scholarship scheme depends upon the response to the public appeal, and it is my understanding that while many people and a number of institutions have already given generously there is room for a further and wider response if this is to be made a really comprehensive and worthy scheme.

Memories are short. I am sure that everyone in this country was deeply moved by the shocking event at Dallas. But nowadays emotions and even intellectual responses are quickly overlaid by succeeding events and crises, and I daresay that in this case the effect has been somewhat attenuated by the smooth transfer of power which is provided for by the American Constitution, and by the fact that President Kennedy's chosen successor, the present President, has had, not surprisingly perhaps, the strength and the skill in his own way to carry forward the policies of the late President and to realise them in essentials. But this does not in the least detract from—indeed, I think it enhances—what President Kennedy gave and did.

Perhaps it was the younger generation who were most affected by the death of the late President. Many of them, I think, found it almost intolerable that, in a world which seemed to be run largely by old men, the one representative of their own generation who had broken through to the summit of power was the one to be struck down. I think that this project will serve as a living memory of the President, and that it will appeal particularly to young people. I am glad to have had the opportunity of supporting it.

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, it is a great honour for me to congratulate the noble Lord who has just spoken upon the excellence of his maiden speech. No one is better qualified than he to speak on this subject, and I am sure that he has welcomed the opportunity of making his first speech in this House in praise of the memory of President Kennedy. The noble Lord brings great gifts and wide experience to the service of this House, and we shall look forward to hearing him speak often on the many matters in which he is so well qualified to address this House.

May I, on behalf of those who sit on these Benches, give our full support to this Bill? In these days of rapid communication across the world it is possible in a short time for those who are placed in conspicuous positions of leadership to impress the quality of their character and ideals upon everybody in a manner which was denied to their fore-fathers. We have in the last few years had two conspicuous examples of the way in which this can happen: one concerned an old man, one a young man. In the course of his short reign, of a few years, Pope John XXIII, through the patent goodness of his character and love of peace, brought a sweetness and understanding to relationships both within and without the life of the Church which will long endure. He died in the fullness of his years. President John Kennedy, by the vigour and charm of his youthfulness, his courage, his love of freedom, gave inspiration and new vision to the whole world. He was struck down by a cruel assassin's bullet in the full flow of his life and his ability. Yet in those few years he has left the mark of his person and his ideals upon the whole of humanity.

Many of your Lordships no doubt sat up late on that momentous night when the President spoke over the radio of the action he had decided to take in the Cuban crisis. We wondered whether we should be alive next day. Never has any single man had such a weight of responsibility laid upon his shoulders, or had to take so awful a decision, as he did at that time. The courage of his decision and the statesmanship he displayed in the handling of the situation which followed placed us all in his debt. It is eminently fitting that there should be in this country, which has been the cradle of modern political freedom, a Memorial to this champion of human freedom. It is fitting that it should be at Runnymede, with all the historical associations that that name conjures up to the mind. This Bill is an expression of the gratitude that we in this country feel for the leadership of President Kennedy. I am sure that its significance is appreciated by all of us.

3.16 p.m.


My Lords, as one who has had the honour of being Rector of a Great British University with a tremendous international tradition extending over the centuries—I refer to the University of St. Andrew's—I would add just one sentence to what has been said. I believe that international scholarships offer one of the greatest hopes for the world in the future; and in that I entirely agree with the noble Lord to whose delightful maiden speech we have just listened. As one who personally knew President Kennedy, I am quite certain that this manifestation on our part of his memory would have been more agreeable to him than anything else.

3.17 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think that in normal circumstances I would add anything more, since the support your Lordships have given the Bill has been unanimous and most movingly expressed. But I think that perhaps on behalf of my noble friends behind me, and I am sure for noble Lords opposite as well, I might say how much we welcome the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield. It seems rather an impertinence to congratulate him since he has had such a distinguished career in so many walks of life, not least, I think—indeed, perhaps most of all—when he was British Ambassador in the United States. It is therefore more than appropriate that he should have chosen this occasion to make his first speech in your Lordships' House. I join with the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Chester in hoping that he will speak to your Lordships many times again, and in tones so elegant and so brief. I hope that your Lordships will now give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of July 20), Bill read 3a, and passed.