HC Deb 03 November 1997 vol 300 cc12-4
10. Mr. St. Aubyn

What are his plans for commemorating armistice day. [11743]

Dr. Reid

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Defence will attend the Cenotaph ceremony on Remembrance Sunday, as will I and my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. This is the formal national occasion for remembering all those, whether in a military or a civilian capacity, who made the supreme sacrifice.

Mr. St. Aubyn

Will the Minister join Conservative Members in supporting the British Legion and its proposal that a two-minutes silence should be observed on Tuesday 11 November? If so, how does the Minister propose to build on the success of the previous Government a year ago in promoting that idea?

Dr. Reid

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are committed to ensuring that Remembrance Sunday and the two-minute silence on that day are not forgotten, but observed with full dignity, respect and honour. He will realise, of course, that the observance of a period of silence either on Remembrance Sunday or on 11 November must be a personal decision. Indeed, one of the freedoms for which those who fell fought was the right of individuals to make that decision. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Ministers, including myself, and their officials will be observing that silence on both those dates.

Mr. Grocott

Amid the many and varied ways in which different communities commemorate Armistice Day, may I tell my hon. Friend about a very moving ceremony which takes place every year in my constituency and, no doubt, elsewhere? It is called the Ceremony of Light, when 100 names of people who have given their lives in wars this century are read out and for each name a candle is lit, usually by a young person in the constituency. Although I attend the ceremony every year, each year is deeply moving—not least because it involves people of all generations. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that all generations—especially young people as they grow older—understand the awesome sacrifices that were made and the reasons why they were made to defend our freedoms?

Dr. Reid

I thank my hon. Friend for that. I am sure that the House will have found his description as important and moving as I did. It is absolutely essential that young people not only formally remember but recognise those who fell for this country—first because many of those who fell gave up their youth for succeeding generations, and secondly because, unless the torch of freedom and the sacrifices made are passed from generation to generation, we shall not retain the will power to stand up for democracy and freedom. That is what the people who died in the second world war died for. All of us and any future generation will forget that to the peril of the very democracies and freedoms for which previous generations fell.

Mr. Trimble

The Minister, like most hon. Members present, is wearing a poppy. Will he comment on the behaviour of the management of Coates Viyella Ltd. in Londonderry, which has sent home and suspended more than a dozen workers for wearing poppies and has even compelled visiting executives from England to remove poppies while on the plant? Does the Minister agree that a perverted interpretation of legislation is being used to support that outrageous action, and that the legislation should be clarified so that no person will be penalised in future for wearing a poppy?

Dr. Reid

I recognise the strength of feeling that the hon. Gentleman brings to the matter not only because of Remembrance Sunday, which is coming up, but because yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the terrible massacre in Enniskillen, which was a dastardly act by any standards. I had the privilege of attending a ceremony held by representatives of the Enniskillen British Legion yesterday and presented them with a wreath from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to take back to Enniskillen.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) will understand that, due to the nature of discussions that we are having on Remembrance Sunday and exchanges across the Dispatch Box, I do not want to address that particular instance on this occasion. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me, I am sure that we could meet on this subject and I could give him satisfaction.