HC Deb 26 January 1999 vol 324 cc125-7
3. Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

If he will make a statement on the Governments policy towards the maintenance, repair and protection of Scottish war memorials. [65827]

The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office (Mr. Henry McLeish)

Responsibility for the maintenance, repair and protection of a war memorial lies with the owner, or the body in which it is vested. Local authorities are responsible for the war memorials that they own. I expect them to take that duty seriously and I shall take steps to draw the matter to their attention.

Mr. Maclennan

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that the sacrifice made by the young is still strongly felt in the highland communities and the long list of the dead is still a reminder in the heart of every parish? Will he remind the Highland regional council that it is entrusted with the safekeeping of our memorials and that it is inappropriate for it to have made no budgetary provisions for their upkeep? Furthermore, will he give an assurance that the modest sums at stake are not used as a pawn in arguments between central and local government about spending requirements?

Mr. McLeish

I concur with those comments. It is a serious matter. Let me take the opportunity to acknowledge that war memorials are important to every family and community in Scotland and to the country at large. Given that we are 80 years on from the end of the 1914–18 war, it is absolutely right that we should acknowledge that. Let me reassure the right hon. Gentleman that I take the matter seriously. I shall take it up with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and with the Highland regional council. It is not an issue that requires large expense in many communities, but there is a facility that provides the powers to the local authorities that own war memorials. However, the collective view of the House should be that war memorials should be taken seriously and I shall pursue the matter. After 1 July 1999, it will be a matter for the Scottish Parliament.

I hope that the Scottish Parliament will want to look again at the relevant legislation as we cannot sacrifice the war memorials that fulfil an important function in society.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Will my hon. Friend pay special attention to the commemoration of Scots who died while serving with units based in other parts of the United Kingdom, and English, Welsh and Irish service men who died on active service with Scottish units during two world wars? Will he comment briefly on the extraordinary statement of Colonel Stuart Crawford, the SNP defence spokesperson, who said that the Scots guards who are commemorated on so many Scottish war memorials are a quasi-mercenary regiment … tainted by their association with England?

Mr. McLeish

However tempted I may be, I do not want to go too far down that road. Suffice it to say that the SNP defence policy is a shambles and we should not spoil the discussion of an important issue with such comments. People who lose their lives in war, no matter what their nationality, should be commemorated. We have proud traditions in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England regarding that. It is the collective wish of the House that we register that concern today and send a message to every council and every owner of a war memorial that they should ensure that they are kept in a proper state of repair. Communities demand that and the House should reflect that concern.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Minister will recall that although the Ministry of Defence could not pardon those soldiers who were killed—wrongly, in the opinion of many—because they seemed to have deserted their posts in the first world war, there was a suggestion that their names could be put on war memorials. Has that been followed up in Scotland?

Mr. McLeish

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. However, my colleagues at the Ministry of Defence, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, will want to look at his comments in the Official Report and respond to him.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

I am sure that the Minister—unlike the Scottish National party—would agree that the best way to commemorate those who died in the service of their country, and those who believe in the United Kingdom, is to maintain Scotland's role in the national defence of the whole UK. In view of that, can the Minister tell us what case Scottish Office Ministers have put to the Ministry of Defence that the Royal Ordnance factory at Bishopton should be kept open?

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman's question is totally out of order. It does not relate to Scottish war memorials. I understand that the hon. Gentleman wants to ask another question.

Dr. Fox

indicated dissent.

Madam Speaker

In that case, we shall move on.

Back to