HL Deb 12 February 1992 vol 535 cc719-21

3.14 p.m.

Lord Westbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will consider holding a service to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Alamein.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, the Battle of El Alamein is commemorated in Egypt each year at a Commonwealth ceremony and an international ceremony held jointly with the Germans and Italians. We recognise the importance of the 50th anniversary and are considering how best to make this year's commemoration special. I shall advise my noble friend of our conclusions as soon as possible.

Lord Westbury

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer. Does he realise that the three turning points of World War II were the Battle of Britain, Alamein and Stalingrad?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, we indeed realise that the Battle of Alamein was the decisive battle in the North African campaign. As Churchill himself was later to write: Up to Alamein, we survived; after Alamein, we conquered".

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, are the Government saying that they have no intention of commemorating the 50th anniversary of Alamein in this country?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, this point will most certainly be considered, although I am sure your Lordships will agree that the thrust of our commemoration must take place at El Alamein.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that we warmly support the request of the noble Lord in view of the historic significance of this great battle and in memory of the brave men who fought and died there? Is he further aware that there is no argument against holding a service in this country?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I repeat what I said initially; everything will be taken into consideration. The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is quite right about the courage, bravery and endurance of the allies. During the 12 days of the campaign some 13,500 either fell or were taken prisoner.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, in addition to the three turning points mentioned by my noble friend Lord Westbury, the Battle of the Atlantic, as Mr. Churchill himself said, was an important, if not the most important, turning point?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I can say to my noble friend that other commemorative events in which the services are likely to participate apart from El Alamein include the Battle of the Atlantic and the Normandy landings.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, does the noble Earl accept that it is by no means self-evident that the thrust of the celebration should be in Egypt rather than in this country? While it may be that from a world strategic point of view the Stalingrad battle, with its mixed consequences over the following 40 years, was of more importance, El Alamein was a turning point for British arms. After the victory the church bells were rung in this country for the first time for three years and I believe that it would be appropriate that a further ringing of church bells in celebration should take place on the 50th anniversary.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I understand the strength of your Lordships' feelings. I shall pass on the strength of those feelings to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a major service in this country, either at the Abbey or at St. Paul's, would not be inconsistent with the usual one in Egypt and would give an opportunity for tribute to be paid by large numbers of people in this country who realise how decisive this victory was?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I understand what my noble friend is saying but I do not think that I can add anything further to what I have already said.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the noble Earl be gracious enough to convey to his right honourable friend the fact that the Royal British Legion, of which I am proud to be a president, which represents ex-servicemen, many of whom were at El Alamein, will support those noble Lords who have said that there should be a proper recognition of the gallantry of those who fought and of those who gave their lives? That is the desire of our Royal British Legion. I am sorry that some noble Lords opposite cannot support that.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the Royal British Legion plays a prominent part in such activities and I am perfectly certain that it will continue to do so.