HL Deb 20 May 1992 vol 537 cc604-6

3.3 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What arrangements they are making to commemorate and celebrate in this country the 50th anniversary of the battle of El Alamein.

The Viscount St Davids

My Lords, we are conscious of the debt of honour the nation owes to those from the many allied countries who fought and died at El Alamein. We have also listened with the greatest of care to the strong representations on this subject made in your Lordships' House. I can tell your Lordships that this year's cenotaph ceremony will give special prominence to the 50th anniversary of the battle.

We understand that the Royal British Legion will invite the Eighth Army Association to lead the Remembrance Day Parade. In addition, the Royal British Legion's annual festival at the Albert Hall will this year mark the 50th anniversary of the battle and the Eighth Army Association is expecting 2,000 of its 3,000 members to be at its annual reunion in Blackpool on 31st October.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, which is a great improvement on the answers previously given. However, is he aware that attendance at the ceremony in Egypt will be very difficult for people who, in the nature of things, are now of riper years and who are probably unable to meet the expense involved? Is he also aware that it is perhaps unfortunate that the 50th anniversary celebrations in Egypt will be under German leadership?

Viscount St Davids

My Lords, the Government believe that the arrangements made with the veterans' associations are totally appropriate, although we understand that there is some feeling about the German leadership of the celebrations at El Alamein. However, we reiterate the fact that we have sought a policy of reconciliation with former enemies and that the arrangements now seem totally appropriate.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does not the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, agree that it is to the credit of this House that this matter was raised some time ago and that, given that many possibilities were strongly resented by the Government, this complete change is indeed very welcome? However, does the noble Viscount agree that there must also be some other way to mark the 50th anniversary? El Alamein was not merely a great victory at arms but a morale-building episode because the German army never believed that its great Field Marshal Rommel could in any way be defeated, but Field Marshal Montgomery disproved that? This is perhaps the final anniversary for which many people who fought in that battle will he alive because, like me, they must all be in their early seventies. Should not the Government provide some special celebration to mark the magnificent victory of the battle of El Alamein, which ultimately secured other martial victories?

Viscount St Davids

My Lords, as I have said before in this House, the Government feel that to select El Alamein above all the other battles of the Second World War would be invidious. We feel that our policy is totally appropriate.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, if the more prosperous Germans are able to go to Egypt in great numbers while the more impoverished Britons cannot, would that not be slightly incongruous to say the least? Could not the Government find some way to finance sending a reasonable quota of Britons to commemorate what most of us still regard as a rather successful British occasion?

Viscount St Davids

My Lords, the Government finance part of the costs of widows attending such celebrations.

Lord Boardman

My Lords, does my noble friend recall that, at the time, El Alamein was labelled as the "end of the beginning" and that it was, in fact, a very great British victory? Would it not therefore be appropriate for that British victory to be celebrated by the British for the British?

Viscount St Davids

My Lords, I think that the answers that we have given on this question are totally appropriate to the nature of the commemoration of El Alamein.

Lord Zuckerman

My Lords, when answering the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, the noble Viscount, Lord St Davids, referred to the fact that at the Cenotaph ceremony—one can hardly call it a celebration—this coming year the Eighth Army will lead the parade. Has the Royal Air Force been forgotten? Will the desert air force be represented in any way?

Viscount St Davids

My Lords, I cannot immediately answer that question, but I shall seek an answer for the noble Lord and advise him accordingly.

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