In this question Lord Bilimoria contributes to the debate by acknowledging his role as vice-patron of the Memorial Gates on Constitution Hill and explaining the Memorial Gates in greater detail. He asks the Minister if he believes that there should be a Sikh memorial in London and notes his pride at being a part of the the Joint Committee of both Houses that put up the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. He concludes by stating that memorials are there to commemorate, remember and inspire.
Historical Statues and Memorials
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will publish guidance to encourage the protection of existing historical statues and memorials and promote the establishment of new memorials that reflect the broader history of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I am proud to be vice-patron of the Memorial Gates on Constitution Hill, an initiative spearheaded by my noble friend Lady Flather, who pioneered and persisted in raising the funds, helped by others, to make this memorial possible. It was inaugurated by Her Majesty the Queen in 2002. Every March, we have a commemoration ceremony on Commonwealth Day. I chaired that ceremony for six years and continue to be a member of the Memorial Gates Council. To quote Her Majesty the Queen’s Commonwealth message to the 53 member states:
“We are guardians of a precious flame, and it is our duty not only to keep it burning brightly but to keep it replenished for the decades ahead”.
The Memorial Gates have flames burning above them. On one of the pillars of the gates is a quote from the poet Ben Okri:
“Our future is greater than our past”.
Inscribed on the roof of the pavilion next to the Memorial Gates are the names of the VC and GC recipients from the countries that are represented there. Five million people from what was then India, south Asia, Africa and the Caribbean served in the First and Second World Wars. We would not have our freedom today without their service and sacrifice. On that roof are the names of three recipients of the Victoria Cross from my father’s battalion, the 2nd 5th Gorkha Rifles Frontier Force. My father became commander-in-chief of the Central Indian Army. He was president of the Gorkha Brigade and he led his battalion, the 2nd 5th Gorkhas, in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. I was proud to have been brought up with two of those Victoria Cross winners, Gaje Ghale and Agansing Rai. The third, Netrabahadur Thapa, was awarded posthumously.
Memorials are there to inspire the future and our youth. It gives me such pleasure to see schoolchildren attend our ceremony every year. What are the Government doing to encourage, promote and support education programmes in schools on all our memorials. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for initiating the debate and I wish him well in the creation of the monument to enslaved African people. There is a Sikh memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum, as there is a Gurkha one. But although there is a Gurkha memorial in London, there is no Sikh memorial in London. Does the Minister believe we should have a Sikh memorial here?
Before I conclude, one of my proudest achievements as a Member of your Lordships’ House for the past 10 years was being a member of the Joint Committee of both Houses that put up the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. It is only the 11th statue. I never cease to find people in front of it when I walk through or drive around Parliament Square, because Mahatma Gandhi’s message is for the world. Once again, what are we doing to promote the message of Mahatma Gandhi and the individuals there to educate, because memorials are there to commemorate, to remember and to inspire? I conclude by reading those famous words on the Kohima war memorial:
“When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrow we gave our today”.