HL Deb 14 July 1992 vol 539 cc99-101

3.11 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which British victories over the Germans in the 1939– 45 war they regard as appropriate for a commemorative service in London on their 50th anniversary.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, the Government are planning a commemorative service to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1995. This will be a national event involving the country as a whole. In addition, the services have selected three World War II events for special commemoration on their 50th anniversaries. Arrangements have been made to enhance existing annual commemorations and the costs incurred are being met from within existing budgets. The RAF commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain with a service at Westminster Abbey in 1990. The Navy will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic with a service at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral in 1993. The Army has chosen the 50th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein for special commemoration and, as your Lordships are already aware, commemorative services will be held at El Alamein on 25th October. The Eighth Army Association will also be holding a service at Westminster Abbey on 14th October which will be attended by Her Majesty the Queen. The Government and the Ministry of Defence will also be represented.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that those who have been pushing hard for proper commemoration of the Battle of El Alamein will be gladdened by the latter part of his Answer, especially now that we know that the service to be arranged will be graciously attended by Her Majesty the Queen, with all the admirable feeling that that induces?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend. If I may say so, this is yet another example of the power and influence of your Lordships' House at its best.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it might have been more appropriate and more sensitive if the questioner had referred to victories over the Nazis and their allies rather than to the Germans who are now our allies and fellow members of the European Community?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, my short experience of this House tells me that my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter is more than able to frame his own Question in his own way.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that his Answer will be widely welcomed by all the many widows and families of the service people who participated in that great campaign in the desert but who, obviously, are unable to travel to the desert? The fact that they can attend a service at Westminster Abbey will be much appreciated by a huge number of the public.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am particularly grateful to my noble friend for those remarks. Your Lordships will be well aware of the special interest he naturally has in the matter. I accept what he says. I would however point out that a number of widows will be travelling to the commemoration in the desert.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us—including, I am sure, many who took part in the Second World War—do not really want to celebrate any victory over the Germans; we want to celebrate peace and the foundation of the United Nations? Let us remember, but let us not ostentatiously remember.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I always listen to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, with keen attention. The Second World War was one of the most important battles against tyranny in the history of this nation. As a result, the fact that we won that battle is, I think, a matter for celebration as well as for commemoration.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the victory now to be so appropriately commemorated was a victory over the Germans and that the Germans supported the Nazi regime until the last moment when Hitler very appropriately killed himself? Therefore, is he aware that the Question is accurately framed and that it is a pity to cloud it with references to the Nazis when the victory was, in fact, over the Germans?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, if he will forgive me, I do not have the great advantage of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter of even having been alive during those years. However, I have taken the opportunity of an extended education to read some appropriate history books and I know that my noble friend is well known for the accuracy of his observations.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, does the noble Viscount recognise that in almost all of the battles, especially El Alamein, there was a strong and effective contribution from members of what was then known as the British Empire, now the Commonwealth? Can we have an assurance from the Government that representatives from the Commonwealth will be suitably invited and suitably treated at any commemorative service?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am very happy to be able to give the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, the assurance that he requests.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that it was very important throughout the war to make a distinction between the Germans and the Nazis and that it is still important in peace to do the same?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, it is important, of course, to draw a distinction between Nazis and Germans. We are well aware—again, in my case, from the reading of the history books—that there were people in Germany who opposed the Nazis, but there were also very large numbers of people who were not members of the Nazi party but who fought hard on the Nazi side.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that an occasion of commemoration—a national occasion—is also a great occasion for a re-dedication to the causes of both peace and justice in the world and that the larger the congregation on these occasions the more people will take part in that re-dedication?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am happy to be able to confirm—as I know that the right reverend Prelate will agree—that over the past 13 years Her Majesty's Government have made a greater contribu-tion to peace than almost any member of CND.