HC Deb 17 June 1954 vol 528 cc2276-7
50. Mr. G. M. Thomson

asked the Prime Minister if he will arrange for the original instrument of the surrender of the German Army at present in private possession to be recovered and placed in the national archives.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. It seems to me that Field Marshal Montgomery set a valuable precedent by retaining in his own hands the original document of the battlefield surrender to him at Lune-berg Heath of more than half-a-million well-trained enemy soldiers.

The fact that such trophies will hereafter be the personal property of the British Commander-in-Chief in the field should be an incentive to all young officers in the British Army to repeat the episode on the half million scale whenever the public interest requires.

I do not think that any addition to the Queen's Regulations is necessary. The practice may form part of the unwritten law. Its adoption would in any case be optional.

Mr. Thomson

While everybody agrees in paying tribute to the brilliant military record of Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery, may I ask whether the Prime Minister is aware that there will be astonishment throughout the country that the right hon. Gentleman, above all people, with his high sense of constitutional propriety, should defend the purloining by a military leader of a document of surrender which belongs, above all, to all who contributed to the victory? Would not the right hon. Gentleman seriously reconsider the constitutional propriety of the course he is advocating?

The Prime Minister

I have considered the propriety, but I think the course that I recommend is far preferable to the use of the word "purloining" by the hon. Gentleman which, in my opinion, is grossly unfair and ungrateful to a man to whose great achievements we all awe so much.

Brigadier Medlicott

Is not it clear that the retention of this document by the distinguished officer in question is a small but very well-deserved tribute to one who made an imperishable contribution to our common victory?

The Prime Minister

I may say that had this document not been retained by the gallant Field Marshal it would have passed into American hands and been entirely out of the control of this country.

Mr. Stokes

Does the Prime Minister realise the impossible position he is getting us into? Would he say, for example, that Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick would be entitled to keep the original document reporting his own interview with Rudolf Hess?

The Prime Minister

I do not know what that has to do with it. I am sure that if the right hon. Gentleman were to be concerned in any way with procuring the surrender of 500,000 enemies of this country there would be no objection raised to his keeping the receipt for that transaction. But I can assure the House that there is no chance of anything like that happening.

Mr. Stokes

No, but the Prime Minister has wilfully misunderstood me. I am not complaining that Field Marshal Lord Montgomery should have a record, but surely the original document should be the property of the nation. While he may be entitled to a copy surely that should be sufficient.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

It is after half-past three and we cannot carry this further.