HL Deb 07 July 1994 vol 556 cc1379-82

3.10 pm.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to celebrate VE Day and the end of the war in Europe.

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

My Lords, events to commemorate the anniversary next year of the end of the war in Europe will be held over the Bank Holiday weekend between 6th and 8th May. Although our plans are at an early stage, we expect these to include a service in St. Paul's Cathedral, a luncheon at Buckingham Palace for visiting heads of state and a parade in central London.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I am most grateful for that reply which I find very encouraging. I can assure the Minister that it will also be appreciated by our ex-servicemen and women's associations. Does the Minister agree that in our democracy the views of those who oppose any form of celebration are to be heeded too? Does he further agree that it should also be understood that the celebration is really about a great allied victory which rescued Europe and, incidentally, Italy and Germany as well? It is right for us to honour our ex-servicemen and women, particularly those who were slain or maimed, and also the victims of racism. Does the Minister agree that it was a magnificent victory which saved decent humanity and democracy?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, is well known for the assiduity with which he represents the views of former servicemen. Indeed, his position as an honorary official of the Royal British Legion is much appreciated in your Lordships' House. I believe that I can reassure him by saying that I am already in close and regular contact with the representatives of veterans' organisations, particularly those of the Royal British Legion as I am sure the noble Lord knows. We hope that there will be a separate commemoration in August next year which will specifically focus on the contribution not only of servicemen and former servicemen but also civilian services—and civilian women, as I am reminded. The commemoration will focus not only on this nation but also on the Commonwealth countries. It will be a great family occasion.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, while the arrangements by the Ministry of Defence for the recent commemorations in Normandy and in the Portsmouth area were admirable and much appreciated when they took place last month, will the Government ensure that any proposals for celebrations by the general public on VE Day are discussed with veterans' organisations before they are announced?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his kind remarks. I shall make sure that they are drawn to the attention of the people who really did the work for this year's commemora-tions. As far as the second part of my noble friend's question is concerned, the short answer is certainly yes.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are many of us with very cruel memories of what happened to the Forgotten Army in the Far East? Does he agree that by emphasising VE Day there will be many men and women who served in the Far East who will feel some neglect and lack of appreciation? How can the Minister put that right?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for raising what I believe to be an extremely important question. The best way I can answer her is to say that I have already asked the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, who is a respected Member of your Lordships' House, to join my steering group to make sure that the very eventuality she fears does not take place.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that an important feature of this event is to remind the French and the Germans that if we had not stood alone against the Germans in Western Europe between May 1940 and December 1941 they would not now be able to bully us in the European Union?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, that in the wake of recent events in Corfu the word "bully" in that context is perhaps a little inappropriate. I hope that he will reflect on the timing of that part of his question. I am happy to say to the noble Lord that all of us are well aware of the unique role which our country proudly played—before my birth but not his—in the saving of liberty in Western Europe. We shall make sure that that element is firmly recognised next year.

Lord Alport

My Lords, following the supplemen-tary question of the noble Baroness, does my noble friend agree that it would be more important to call this a celebration not of VE Day but of the end of the Second World War? Does he further agree that that would cover all the fronts on which British servicemen and women were serving during the whole of that time? I believe that there is a great danger that those who served in the Far East will perhaps be looking forward to a VJ Day which, I believe is too much to expect. Does my noble friend agree that the whole celebration should be concerned with the end of the Second World War and not with VE Day alone?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I wholly agree with my noble friend in what he says. I am sorry that I did not make our outline plans—and I emphasise that so far they are outline plans—entirely clear. The theme of the VE Day commemorations and celebrations—and I use both words advisedly, particularly in the light of certain events and strictures which were made of Her Majesty's Government a little earlier this year —will be to celebrate 50 years of peace in Western Europe. With the help of the Royal British Legion it will also bear the stamp of the two words "tribute" and "promise" so we shall look forward to the contribution of youth. On top of that we are well aware that VE Day was not the end of the war. It is for that reason that I emphasise the fact that we shall be looking to the anniversary of VJ Day to be a great national and Commonwealth event to commemorate the matters to which my noble friend referred.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that we associate ourselves entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has just said? Will the noble Viscount give the House an assurance that the Ministry of Defence, which I understand is to be in charge of these operations—and perhaps the noble Viscount himself; who knows what will happen in the future?—will not hire expensive public relations firms at enormous cost to invent spam fritter parties and other things which are wholly irrelevant? Does the Minister agree that this is a very serious occasion?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, perhaps I may say with a certain degree of pride that the Ministry of Defence, in the context of D-Day, did not hire any public relations consultants. I can confirm to the noble Lord that the department has been given the honour and responsibility of taking the lead in arranging the VE Day and VJ Day commemorations and that other government departments will have their part to play in what I hope will be, if I am allowed to use the phrase, a collegiate effort in that matter. I do not anticipate that it will be necessary to hire public relations firms for that purpose. If we have to change our minds in that regard I certainly undertake that the noble Lord and your Lordships' House will be among the first to know that we have done so.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I have one small question to ask. Given that in 1945 there was the arrival of a Labour Government, will the MoD and the Government ask the Opposition to join with them in planning these events? These are national events and it is only right that the Opposition should be invited to participate.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for his offer. I hope that the events will indeed be national events, not party political events, and that those who help us to plan the events will be chosen on their merits rather than for their party political allegiance. I am sure that many members of the Labour Party and of the other Opposition parties will help us in that.