HL Deb 04 May 1995 vol 563 cc1477-9

3.16 p.m.

Lord Sudeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of the role he played in bringing his country over to the Allied side, an invitation to the VE Day celebrations has been issued to King Michael of Romania.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, King Michael of Romania has been invited to the Guildhall banquet on 6th May and the thanksgiving service at St. Paul's Cathedral on 7th May in recognition of his positive wartime role.

Lord Sudeley

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply and warmly congratulate the Government on their positive response. Perhaps I may ask, first, why the Queen of Romania has not also been invited. Secondly, given that the King of Romania was ejected forcibly from his own country in 1989, do Her Majesty's Government agree that refusing entry to a Romanian national born of Romanian parents on Romanian soil is a violation of Romania's obligations under international conventions as a member of the Council of Europe? And, thirdly, do Her Majesty's Government agree that as Romania is now a member of the Council of Europe, investment from the West should be made conditional on the present Government of Romania improving their human rights record and renewing their commitment to ending intimidation and harassment of political opponents?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, heads of government and heads of state have received invitations to the various celebrations of 50 years of peace. I understand that restrictions have had to be made to allow more veterans to attend events in the cathedral, in Hyde Park, and various events throughout the coming weekend. I believe that that was right. On my noble friend's other points, I shall write to him with a detailed answer.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I hope that this House acknowledges the role and contribution of our Royal British Legion and that no one on either side of the Chamber despises our Royal British Legion. I hope that this House recognises what it has done in assisting our great country in times of stress. The statement made by the noble Baroness is much appreciated by our Royal British Legion.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, as a member of the women's section of the Wallasey Royal British Legion, I know how much we owe to the work of the Royal British Legion. We have had a very happy partnership with the Royal British Legion over all the arrangements. Only yesterday the chairman of the Royal British Legion told my noble friend the Leader of the House how satisfied he was with those arrangements. He has seen what is planned for Hyde Park and again is satisfied.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, at the end of the war, by ousting his fascist government in Romania King Michael possibly saved the Russians three months' to six months' fighting. Is it not possible for the British Government to ensure that he receives some honour? The USA Government and the Soviet Government gave him honours at the end of the war in recognition of his great help to the Allies. Fifty years later, why cannot we do the same?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I note with interest what my noble friend says. This is obviously not a matter I can answer at the Dispatch Box. It is perfectly true. King Michael's wartime record was very honourable indeed. I shall look into the request that the noble Lord makes.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, since we are slightly wide of the main Question, will the noble Baroness tell the House whether there is any truth in the rumour I have heard that the Poles who fought so courageously on the Allied side have not been invited to participate in the celebrations? I hope that that is not true.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that it is not true. I am sure that they will have a very prominent place in all the celebrations this coming weekend. Checking my list for names, I can immediately say that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, Mr. Bartoszewski, will be attending this weekend and will be involved in all the events that are taking place.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, although Romania is a member of the Council of Europe, it is subject to monitoring to make certain that it has carried out the commitment made before it became a member? I will see that the point made by my noble friend about King Michael is examined to see whether Romania, by the action it has taken, is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that question. It is absolutely right that any countries which have had severe human rights problems are subject to monitoring. I look forward to hearing the results of his inquiries.

Lord Braine of Wheatley

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is no doubt whatever about the wholly honourable role that the King of Romania played at a very important stage in the war? Does she agree that it is sad that the kind of recognition asked for was not granted earlier?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there is nothing in what I have said to indicate, nor personally do I feel, any doubt whatever that King Michael's wartime record was honourable. Almost alone he led the coup against the dictator Antonescu which brought Romania on to the Allied side and, as noble friends said some moments ago, he may well have helped to shorten the war. However, at the Dispatch Box I cannot answer in the way my noble friend would like. I have said that I shall look into the matter. I shall do so and write to my noble friend.

Lord Shepherd

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that there is some anxiety that the celebrations this weekend seem to be dominated by London? Is she further aware that there is tremendous help, organisation and support within the small towns and villages throughout the length and breadth of the country? Once the celebrations are over, will it be possible for some information to be produced, through the press or television, on the way in which the general country has responded? London should not dominate the scene.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there will be plenty of events up and down the country. This is a national celebration. There are literally hundreds of voluntarily organised events. The Government have sought to support events in the four capitals of the United Kingdom. I am certain that the whole country will be able to join in the celebration of 50 years of peace. When we reach the VJ weekend, I hope that there will be even more opportunities for us to thank the veterans for our deliverance 50 years ago.