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Volume 730: debated on Tuesday 4 October 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what powers they have with regard to the siting of statues in central London.

My Lords, proposals to erect statues in central London require planning permission from the local planning authority. Under Section 5 of the Public Statues (Metropolis) Act 1854 the consent of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is also necessary. In practice, that consent is given automatically if planning permission has been granted, and the Government intend to repeal that provision of the Act as soon as suitable legislation is available.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. In Westminster, there are more than 300 statues and monuments and half of them are listed because of special architectural or historic interest. Planning permission is obtained from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. There is an increasing number of statues, some of which have little interest. Should there not be a limited acceptance of such statues?

My Lords, I am bound to say that they must have been of interest to somebody. Most statues are erected in the city by virtue of public subscription, when somebody has had a great idea about who should be honoured and who should not. The governance of whether a statue is allowed to be erected falls frankly within the remit of the local authority. If it is not satisfied that a statue is suitable either for the authority or in general, it would be able to refuse it. However, we have very many statues honouring a whole lot of people, and I guess that a lot of people in this House would not know half of them.

Is my noble friend aware of the importance of the point made in the Question for a wider appraisal of the location of such statues? In particular, does she recall that the statue of the French war leader, de Gaulle, is rather surprisingly but historically well located outside the headquarters of the French resistance movement in Carlton Gardens and that the statue of the Welsh war leader, Lloyd George, is equally well located alongside the other war leader Winston Churchill on a high plinth in this corner of Parliament Square? Is it not therefore rather sad that the admirable statue of the African leader, Nelson Mandela, is on a very modest plinth in the far corner of Parliament Square when it might be better located on a tall plinth outside South Africa House?

My Lords, frankly, I am not sure how to answer that question, because I imagine the selection of the site was the responsibility either of the people who raised the subscription for the statue or, indeed, was dictated by the local authority. Where these statues are put is not a matter for government. It is something which we would approve, but it is not absolutely a matter in which we would have a direct influence in where they are sited. If that is not the correct answer, I will let my noble and learned friend know.

Does the noble Baroness agree that statues or monuments erected in or near Horse Guards Parade should, if possible, be reserved for those who have fought for their country?

My Lords, that would seem to be a very sensible proposal and I shall make sure that it is recorded.

My Lords, has it not been the practice historically to raise money by way of public subscription to pay for statues in central London of our country’s great statesmen? Which members of the coalition Cabinet does the Minister think the country will be most enthusiastic in due course to honour in this way?

My Lords, I think we will require an enormous amount of land. I would not want to single out anyone, and I would expect them all to be so honoured.

My Lords, when will it be possible for the general public to view the already sited statues in Parliament Square, which they cannot do at the moment?

Well, my Lords, I love being able to shift responsibility. Trafalgar Square is entirely the responsibility of the Mayor for London.

Oh, Parliament Square. I cannot shift that responsibility; I fully understand. The works out there are continuing and, as the noble Baroness knows, there has been a lot of discussion about that area. I hope that in the not too distant future, we will be able to see the statues adequately.

Does my noble friend agree that to overcome the lack of interest to which the noble Lord referred in his Question and to increase the sense of identity that the public feel with their cultural surroundings, including statues, local authorities should always be encouraged to seek the views of the local population before embarking on such projects?

Local authorities’ responsibility is to give planning permission. They have a responsibility to consult on any application they receive so, almost without exception, they will have to seek the views of local people as to both the siting and the appropriateness of any statute being erected in their borough.

Given the current high level of thefts from public buildings and railway lines of materials and metal for export, can the Minister reassure us that all the statues to which she referred are properly secured—microchipped—so that if anyone tries any tricks to take them away, cut them up and export them, we will know about it before it happens?

No, my Lords, I cannot give that assurance. I have not the slightest idea whether they are all microchipped. I will endeavour to find out. It is a very serious question: theft of copper is now prevalent because it commands a high price. If I can find out what secures the statues, I shall do so, and I will write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that anyone proposing to put up a statue has also to provide a capital dowry to ensure that it is subsequently maintained? Does she not think that that of itself must concentrate the minds of those who propose to put up statues?

I am very grateful to my noble friend for that addition. It is a fact that all statues have to have maintenance and dowry money and that people are responsible for that. It is undoubtedly true that that concentrates minds wonderfully.