HL Deb 23 June 1981 vol 421 cc962-3

2.56 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how they plan to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme next month.

Viscount Long

My Lords, there are no plans for commemorating this particular anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that reply. In view of the ominous and growing suggestions of appeasement in the face of militant Irish Republican demands, which date from the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election, and which are by no means confined to the extreme Left, is it not time that the Government counter-attacked in the propaganda war by pointing out to people at home and abroad who may have forgotten, if they ever knew, the heroic sacrifices made by our fellow countrymen from Northern Ireland in both world wars, most notably at the Battle of the Somme?

Viscount Long

My Lords, I fully recognise the question from the noble Lord. Very many brave Ulstermen lost their lives in the Battle of the Somme in the First World War, and again in the last war. May I also say that the 36th Ulster Division played a leading part in the Battle of the Somme, particularly in the most fearful part of the battle. A wreath laying ceremony is held each year in Northern Ireland to commemorate the anniversary of the battle. The Ministry of Defence were not approached through the different associations, nor was the embassy in Paris asking if this commemorating service should take place. Therefore, the last one, as the noble Lord knows, was in 1966, the 50th anniversary, and no application of this sort would seem to have been given.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, what reason can there be for not commemorating an outstanding event of this kind? Is the noble Viscount aware that this was one of the most sensational events in the First World War, and that many of us can recall it, and some of us have a personal interest because, like no doubt many other Members of your Lordships' House, some of our relatives were not only wounded but fatally wounded in that event? We have very vivid recollections of such events. Surely it is occasionally desirable to remind the public of some of the events of this character. It may not stir up their patriotic instincts, but it may have the effect of reminding people of the gallantry of thousands of our men, and particularly the young element of that time, and the political implications that developed as a result of that event.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, for his question, and I sympathise with what lies behind it. It is important to remember those who were killed in the Battle of the Somme, a disasrous battle, and those who were killed in both world wars. Might I say to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and to your Lordships, that of course many from all regiments in the United Kingdom and indeed the Commonwealth were killed, not only the brave men of Ulster but brave men throughout the United Kingdom as a whole.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, to keep the record straight, would the noble Viscount agree that there were also a very large number of people from what is now the Republic of Ireland who were killed in the Battle of the Somme fighting on our side?

Viscount Long

I quite agree with the noble Viscount, my Lords; there were.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, may I ask the Minister to appreciate that some of us who were on the Somme in 1916 do not want to be reminded of it in any artificially glamorised way?

Viscount Long

My Lords, I am aware that many noble Lords fought in that disastrous battle. I am also aware that many noble Lords have not wanted to know much more about it, apart from the fact that they were lucky to get out of it, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, is alive to tell me how the battle went and that he is here to join us in your Lordships' Chamber.