HL Deb 25 January 2001 vol 621 cc354-6

3.17 p.m.

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will extend the Commemoration of the Holocaust on 27th January to include other examples of genocide, as defined by United Nations criteria, and the Armenian massacre in 1915.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the Government decided that Holocaust Memorial Day should focus on learning the lessons of the Holocaust and other more recent atrocities that raise similar issues—and not necessarily genocide as defined by the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide. A particular focus on events around the period 1939 to 1945 and thereafter should not be seen as failing to acknowledge, sympathise with and respect the deep concerns about earlier events like the massacre of Armenians in 1915 and 1916.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that partially encouraging reply. Does he agree that, without in any way detracting from the commemoration of the Jewish Holocaust, to deny recognition of other comparable crimes against humanity diminishes the significance? Does he also agree that one of the most important aspects of the commemoration is to discourage further genocide? Any genocide forgotten or denied may well encourage other genocides, as illustrated by Hitler's infamous question posed before he began the extermination of the Jews: "Who today speaks of the Armenians"?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to say that we should not do anything to detract from the commemoration of the Jewish Holocaust. Nor should we deny history. We should try to learn the lessons of history. It must be the hope of everyone that the Governments of Turkey and Armenia have learnt the lessons of history and that they can in some way put the matter behind them. We must ensure that we have the sort of useful cooperation needed to increase stability and prosperity in that part of the world. That would be in everybody's best interests. We need to learn from history, but we should not be locked into history forever and become prisoners of the past. We need to look to the future. At least the national Holocaust remembrance celebrations will enable us to do that.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer and I thank the Government and all the leaders of all our political parties and of our great religions for their support for this concept. Does he accept that, while Holocaust Memorial Day is of course important in remembering the tragic victims of the Holocaust, who included half of my family, it is also, and more important, to remind especially younger people what can happen if a racist dictatorship is allowed to take over in any country? In that way we can try to prevent further massacres, murders and genocides of any minority at any time and anywhere in the world.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, surely, that is the purpose of the forthcoming national commemoration. I return to the point that it is important to learn the lessons of history and I thank the noble Lord for focusing on that. Throughout we should focus precisely on that.

The Holocaust was appalling, as is any massacre of any race in the world. I believe that we should understand that and make our children and future generations fully aware of its impact. For that reason, the Government should be congratulated on the steps they have taken in that regard.

Lord Elton

My Lords, if the Government accept that it is necessary for the human race to learn this lesson, surely it is necessary that it is learnt by all countries in which genocide has taken place or may do so. Is the Minister aware that in 1929 Winston Churchill said: In 1915 the Turkish Government began and ruthlessly carried out the infamous general massacre and deportation of Armenians in Asia Minor … whole districts blotted out in one administrative holocaust … There is no reasonable doubt that this crime was planned and executed for political reasons"? If those statements from a reliable source are true, surely they should be recognised in this process.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the Government of the day condemned the events in that part of Europe, and rightly so. I was not aware of Winston Churchill's important commentary on those events but I do not seek to draw a particular distinction. We should learn the lessons of history and not be locked in it. We all agree that the Holocaust was an appalling event, as is any massacre of any size. We need to take the opportunities which are provided to reflect on that, so that future generations can learn lessons from history, turn themselves against it and live in greater harmony.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, may I commend the Minister's reply because he is right to draw a distinction—

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, I know that there is a great deal of interest in this Question but the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has been trying to ask a question and the Liberal Democrats have not yet made a contribution.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House. May I commend the Minister because he is right to draw a distinction between the horrors of history? No one alive remembers the Armenian massacre, awful though it undoubtedly was. I believe that the Minister is right to commend the idea of conflict resolution and an attempt to reach a peaceful settlement of such issues. That is different from the Jewish Holocaust—and for that matter the Cambodian holocaust—which represented a systematic attempt to try to destroy an entire section of the people by a deliberate decision of government.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. She always speaks with great wisdom and experience of these matters and I am sure that the Government will welcome her comments.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

My Lords, will the Minister accept that as regards such issues two important things are occurring? First, these events are of such a horror that the communities which are not involved have a tendency to suppress them and to want to forget them. Secondly, the communities which are involved so build them into the consciousness of those people that they shape the very way in which they see their lives and shape the way they react to issues.

Unless we have mechanisms for continual education and remembrance around such events, not only do we not remember the history but we do not understand the roots of many of the conflicts which continue to persist in our own time. Is that not reason enough for ensuring by the means of Holocaust memorials and other means that we remember all these matters?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I can do no more than agree with the right reverend Prelate. Those are wise words and we all need to reflect on them, particularly in quieter moments.