HL Deb 19 June 1995 vol 565 cc4-7

2.49 p.m.

Lord Chalfont asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to follow the successful VE Day celebrations with a similar programme of events to commemorate the end of the war against Japan.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, the Government are organising a programme of commemorative events over the weekend of 19th and 20th August and envisage participation from all nations which fought under the Crown from 1939 to 1945. On Saturday 19th August, the programme includes an open-air service outside Buckingham Palace, a parade of veterans and servicemen and evening entertainment on the River Thames. On Sunday 20th August, we hope that there will be events throughout the nation, with church services and Beating Retreats in the four capital cities.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for that Answer. Is he aware that the events of VE Day, in which he played such a notable part, were regarded as an enormous success in the way in which they brought together the ideas of celebration and reconciliation? Is he aware that many of us hope that the events which will commemorate the end of the war itself will be conducted in a similar spirit? Are the Government taking advantage of the services of a professional organiser or impresario in the way that they did so successfully for the events commemorating VE Day?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for his kind remarks about my part in those matters. I was very happy for others to do the work while I took the credit. With regard to reconciliation, I should refer the noble Lord to an article by Air Vice-Marshal Sir Bernard Chacksfield in the Independent on 13th June 1995 in which he very much supports the line taken by the noble Lord. He will be aware, as I am, that Sir Bernard Chacksfield is chairman of the Burma Star Association.

With regard to the services of an impresario, the noble Lord will be pleased to hear that Major Michael Parker, whose astonishing feats of imagination were at the root of any success that there was on VE Day, has once again been advising the steering group on what should be done on VJ Day. I am sure that his magic touch will be apparent to us all on that weekend.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, the ceremony on VE Day was a great and moving national occasion. But is the Leader of the House aware that, in his reply to my Question, it was confirmed that the Government organised five events in England to celebrate VE Day to which were invited 92 Members of Her Majesty's Government and only eight representatives of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition? Will the noble Viscount inform the House whether the events for VJ Day will be conducted on a similar basis or, bearing in mind that the majority of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in 1945 voted Labour, will they be conducted on the basis of an all-party national celebration?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I was happy to try to answer as best I could the noble Lord's Question for Written Answer on 25th May. I hope that the noble Lord will accept from me that we aimed to ensure that the nation as a whole was represented at the VE Day events including different regions, occupations and political groupings. The noble Lord will he aware that Members of both Houses of Parliament were invited in a number of capacities and the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and leaders of other parties were invited to represent their parties. Others, such as veterans of the Second World War were invited because of their backgrounds and, in a number of cases, Members of the Government were invited in view of the wartime contribution made by their area of responsibility. Agriculture is a good case in point and it was sensible to invite the Minister responsible for agriculture. Had I been opposition spokesman for agriculture I am sure that I should have had no complaints to make about that.

Lord Ironside

My Lords, as the Japanese surrender was signed aboard both the American flagship in Tokyo Bay and aboard the British Pacific Fleet flagship, HMS "King George V", will my noble friend say whether anybody who took part in those ceremonies will be invited to attend the ceremonies here on 19th and 20th August?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships will be aware that the far eastern fleets of the Royal Navy have often come to be called the "forgotten fleets". It is extremely important in the view of Her Majesty's Government—and I associate myself strongly with this—that the Royal Navy and the merchant marine, in particular the forgotten fleets as well as the other allegedly forgotten armies, should play a prominent role. I can give my noble friend the assurance that he seeks.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, the Minister used the word "reconciliation". Is he aware that relatives of those who were prisoners of the Japanese for considerable periods and who have relatives buried on the railway of death find it extremely difficult to follow the road of reconciliation?

Bearing in mind that, to a large extent, victory over the Japanese was achieved by great numbers of men and women from the Commonwealth and our American allies, in addition to our own forces, will the Minister give an undertaking that those people will be represented adequately in any of the celebrations that take place?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, it may be helpful to the noble Lord, Lord Dean, who I know takes a close and justifiable interest in such matters, if I read out from the draft order of service the phrase which has attracted a great deal of attention. The phrase reads: Let us pray for the people of all nations and their leaders that those divisions that remain may be healed". I hope that your Lordships may feel that, particularly in a Christian service, those sentiments are not exceptionable. I am happy to find that the Burma Star Association, in particular, has expressed its full support for that. Forgive me, I have forgotten the other part of the noble Lord's question.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, will the Minister give an undertaking that the American and Commonwealth forces, who played a magnificent part in the defeat of the Japanese, will be adequately represented?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I should emphasise that this is very much a British and Commonwealth event and deliberately so. But we are extremely keen to make sure that there should be full representation by all members of the Commonwealth and all those forces who fought under the Crown because that enables us to make very clear that the final act of remembrance 50 years after what was the most destructive war in history should be a solemn act of thanks to those who fought, died and saved our country and Commonwealth. I emphasise to the noble Lord that we shall be careful in that regard. I have been assisted greatly—notably by my noble friend Lady Flather—to remember that the greatest volunteer army which helped the Allies in the Second World War was the Indian Army.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, as one who was also present with Her Majesty's Armed Forces in South East Asia at the time, perhaps I may express the hope that the events that take place will not exclude an expression of sorrow and regret about the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It would not be out of keeping with the magnanimous spirit which is desirable on this occasion that we should express words of regret about the terrible events which ushered in the nuclear age.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, many people owe their lives to the fact that that difficult and morally impossible decision was taken by President Truman. The noble Lord was there and I was not, but it is clear that we were expecting many thousands of casualties—Britishmen and women—which would undoubtedly have occurred if the bomb had not been dropped. It is an equilibrium which is difficult to maintain. I am glad that I did not have to take that decision but, nevertheless, I believe that it was the right decision.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, I too was in the 14th Army. I was involved in the invasion of Port Swettenham, which it was hoped would assist in defeating the Japanese. While on board we heard that the war was over. I have never prayed so hard nor been so grateful for anything as I was for that atom bomb. It was the finest thing that ever happened that we should have dropped it on those villains. When we reached Port Swettenham, the ramifications would have been unbelievable. Thousands of lives would have been lost and, at the time, I thanked God for the atom bomb.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I have nothing to add to the noble Lord's experience, which he so eloquently expressed.