HL Deb 23 July 2002 vol 638 cc270-84

7.36 p.m.

Baroness Boothroyd rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in recognising the contribution made by women during the Second World War, they support the proposal for a national memorial to the Women of World War Two.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I wish to test the strength of the Government's support for a national memorial to the women of World War II, a permanent memorial to be sited in the Whitehall area commemorating the diverse and important contribution made by women—servicewomen and civilians—during the war.

The clarion call of wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was, Let the women come forward". Women heeded that call and came forward in thousands. Some 64,000 served in the Armed Forces; 55,000 women provided critical air defence with the gunners; and thousands were in the Land Army, ensuring that there was food to keep our forces and families reasonably fed. Others flew unarmed aircraft, as replacements for our Air Force. Women worked behind enemy lines, organising resistance groups and placing themselves in great peril. Many spent hours painstakingly breaking enemy codes at Bletchley Park. There were thousands in munitions factories, fire brigades and hospitals. Thousands worked as ambulance drivers and air raid wardens or cared for evacuees. A huge social change took place in our country.

During my research, it became apparent to me that more than 7 million women enlisted for military and non-military auxiliary occupations in the defence of the country. Two of the women in uniform were Edna Storr from Selby and Mildred Veal from York. Mildred joined the Army in 1941 and became a gunner in charge of a radar station in Plymouth. Later, she fought against the destructive power of the V1 and V2 rockets in London. Edna volunteered before her 18th birthday and was soon an anti-aircraft gunner. She recalls being called upon to do guard duty, armed not with a rifle but with a flashlight and determination.

Almost 50 years after the war those women, and many of their colleagues, met at a reunion and recalled the memorials that they had seen and visited in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States honouring the women of those nations who had contributed to the war effort. As a result of those reunions, a charity known simply as a Memorial to the Women of World War II was born.

Subsequently I was privileged to become the charity's patron. Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal and Dame Vera Lynn are vice patrons, as are Hugh Bayley and John Grogan, the Members for the constituencies of York and Selby respectively. I pay tribute to the considerable role played by retired Major David Robertson, chairman of trustees, who works on the daily business of co-ordinating the charity and the campaign from Imphal barracks at Fulford in York.

In the past four years the trustees have raised £150,000 from organisations and individuals. Of course many of those donations come from pensioners themselves. A similar sum is now required to make a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund successful, and I am minded to ask the Government for a special grant to be made available. Would it not be the Government's wish to be associated with this splendid project, too, and to help to complete it speedily? The Minister will agree that none of us is getting any younger and time is of the essence.

With regard to the site for the monument, surely there is no more appropriate place to acknowledge the contribution to peace and freedom made by millions of women in the war effort than the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. It would provide a permanent monument for that vacant plinth, which would command widespread support.

I understand that under the Greater London Authority Act responsibility for the care, management and use of Trafalgar Square lies with the Mayor of London and the GLA. However—it is a big however—the square remains Crown land and the Secretary of State has continuing involvement in decisions about what will occupy the vacant plinth by virtue of her responsibility to give final approval under the Public Statues Act 1854, which has not been extinguished by the Greater London Authority Act. Therefore, the Government have some responsibility. Would it not be sensible for the charity trustees, the GLA and the Government to co-operate in bringing this project to fruition? I am sure that by working together, we could do business.

I turn to the monument itself. A panel of sculptors, all of whom are members of the Royal Academy of Arts led by Professor Philip King, selected artwork from more than 32 submissions and a maquette has been made. Understandably, in assessing a work of art, there will always be those who regard the design as not being sufficient to adequately convey the complexity and significance of the roles and experiences of the women that it is intended to commemorate. But that is the nature of art.

Conversely, the artwork received an accolade from no less than English Heritage. The inspector of historic buildings wrote: I welcome the figuration and classical nature of the proposed memorial and the material used, which strikes me as being entirely appropriate to this location in one of the capital's great processional routes".

The location referred to is Whitehall where it was originally hoped the siting might be. The trustees are anxious to be flexible. They wish to please as many interested parties as possible and they will reflect on the design. Indeed, there is a good deal of pressure and much to be said for including in the design a tribute to the late Queen Mother for the high profile stand that she took during the war years and the inspirational figurehead that she became as women across the country were mobilised for both civilian and military work.

Many of the women involved in that conflict are obviously no longer with us. Many more are nearing their four score years. They want to take their families—their grandchildren and great-grandchildren—to see a national memorial that acknowledges their special efforts in the fight for freedom and liberty. They are rightly proud of their achievements and we are proud of them. As a nation we want to say thank you for all you did. Let us do it soon. I look forward to a positive and helpful reply from the Minister.

7.46 p.m.

Baroness Pitkeathley

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, for giving us the opportunity to debate this important issue this evening. I say immediately that although I have no particular views about its siting, I am strongly in favour of some kind of national memorial to the women of the Second World War. Their courage, tenacity and commitment contributed in large measure to the success of the Allies in 1945. Their contribution was further extremely significant in building the society that eventually emerged in our nation after the war, with its commitment to a welfare state, equality of opportunity and to the position which women largely, although perhaps not yet as completely as some of us might wish, enjoy in our current society.

The noble Baroness focused on the role played by women in the armed services and in civilian work during the war. I shall concentrate on an even more unsung role—that of the housewife, which is not a word that we hear much nowadays.

During the war, women like my mother and grandmother were the pivots around which the war effort turned. They kept house for families which grew and shrank, as ours did with evacuees, men coming on leave at short notice and leaving again at even shorter notice. They kept spirits up and stomachs full in the most difficult of circumstances. They did so at a time of stringent rationing when most food had to be queued for, when staple commodities were in very short supply and when the domestic duties that most of them had learned earlier had to be entirely revisited because of rationing.

What lessons we could learn now about recycling, economy and innovation. How did they make parsnips taste like bananas? How did they make a night dress out of parachute silk? How does one draw a straight line up the back of one's leg with a pencil so that it looks as though one is wearing stockings? Above all, how did they give their family a tasty meal when they had no meat, no fish and only the tiniest piece of cheese? What a tribute it is to those women that our nation was better fed and healthier than before the war; and certainly there were fewer problems caused by eating fatty and convenience food than there are nowadays.

Nor should we forget that many of those women had just emerged from coping with a severe economic depression when their men were out of work and money was extremely tight. They might have been forgiven for feeling bitter and hard done by but they did not. They buckled down and got on with it for the duration, putting on hold their own ambitions and wishes, while remaining cheerful through all the queues, bombs and blackouts. As a small child in a push chair, the laughter and cheeriness of the women in the queues are strong memories for me, as are the women who always led the community singing in our air raid shelter, encouraging us children to sing loudly to drown out the sound of the bombs.

Many, indeed most, of those woman spent large parts of the war apart from the husbands on whom they had been accustomed to lean in peace time. They did not know when, or if they would see their men again, and it is perhaps hard in these days of easy and instant communication to comprehend what it must have been like to be without news of a loved one for literally years on end, or to attempt to keep children who had no memories of an absent father engaged in a relationship. I used to ask my mother how she bore it and she always used to say, "Remember we were not going through it alone. Everyone was in the same boat".

That feeling of being in the same boat was fostered by women who developed friendships and supportive networks that lasted long after the war was over. Inevitably the long separations of war took their toll on relationships. For some, like my parents, their bonds grew stronger and deeper in adversity. For some, that did not happen and this generation of women was perhaps the first to know the distress of divorce and of having to make a life for themselves and their children. Even where relationships survived, the pain of adjustment to the return of the men was often acute and there are many people of my generation who feel that their relationship with a father who had been absent for five years never truly recovered from that separation. So the effect of the war cast a long shadow and the women we are discussing here tonight had to cope with its effects long after 1945. They deserve a lasting memorial.

I want to say a special word about the women of the Channel Islands. It is often forgotten that my home, Guernsey, and the other Channel Islands were the only part of the United Kingdom to be occupied in the Second World War. Many of the women who lived there knew what it was like, in the face of the approaching enemy and with the sound of the guns in France ringing in their ears, to do what my mother did. With her small baby on one arm, a case of baby clothes on the other, and with only the clothes she stood up in, she turned the key in the lock of her house not knowing whether she would ever see it again and set off alone—for my father was already in the Army—to make what she could of a life in what Channel Islanders call "The Other Side".

Other women, like my paternal grandmother, stayed in the islands throughout the occupation. They endured all the hardships of enemy occupation, which included starvation, curfews and a total absence of news about their scattered families. No wonder that Liberation Day on 9th May, the day on which, as Churchill put it, Our dear Channel Islands have been relieved, is still celebrated on the islands with great joy.

For those and all the other women who played such an incomparable role during the dark days of the war and the days which followed, I support the noble Baroness's call for a memorial.

7.52 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I salute the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, for her imagination in bringing this matter to our attention. By the same token, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever on his courage in being the only male speaker representing, as he does, some 500 or so silent Lords. Shame on them!

The subject of the debate is long overdue. Let us not forget the considerable work women did in the First World War, as well as the second. Then again, women have always taken the place of their menfolk in time of war. If your Lordships look around, in the Royal Gallery of this House one can easily identify two women nurses on board "HMS Victory" in the mural of the Battle of Trafalgar, while opposite another nurse is visible in the painting of the Battle of Waterloo. In every field, women took on men's jobs and did them jolly well.

It is impossible not to duplicate some of the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. I thoroughly agree with her that one thinks of the magnificence of the uniformed services, but I remember my friends who worked in factories. There were brave women who were parachuted into enemy territories—some to be captured and tortured and then to perish. I think of the Land Army and of women pilots who delivered fighter planes from the factories to the airfields. I think of many others too numerous to mention.

A few years ago, I visited St Dunstan's, that magnificent home for blind ex-servicemen, now sadly underused owing to its contract. To my surprise, I was introduced to several blind elderly women. They had been blinded by accident in the munitions factories in which they had worked. There are not so many noble Baronesses in this place whose memories go back, like mine, to the last world war. I and my noble friend Lady Sharples are the only speakers here today who are old enough to have worked throughout the war. We may have endured air raids, had food rationing and no nylon stockings, but we all worked as hard as we could for all those long and agonising years. I believe that among all the statues that rightly exist to our male heroes, some form of national memorial to women might be appropriate.

7.54 p.m.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lady Boothroyd for introducing the debate. I fear that I shall speak personally. First, I would like, as their president, to pay tribute to all my dear ladies of the War Widows' Association who lost their husbands during the war; to their courage—after which their magazine is named—and to their grit and determination to carry on. And carry on they did with brave smiling faces, looking after children, as nurses, as members of the women's Armed Forces and the Land Army, like my noble friend Lady Trumpington, as secret agents, air raid wardens and all the other myriad things which women did and indeed do. It is not so much the hand which rocks the cradle ruling the world but keeping the world going on its course. So to them I pay tribute.

We won the war because everyone was involved, men and women, and indeed children. We all did our but. At school, I knitted orange helmets for sailors, khaki socks for soldiers—though I was sorry for those who had to wear them as the heels were all bobbly—and melted lead labels off the laundry baskets to make model Spitfires for the Royal Air Force benevolent organisation.

At home, I helped my mother pick spaghnum moss for bandages, pack parcels for prisoners of war, dig the flower beds for potatoes, feed the hens and milk the cows on the lawn and look after the endless stream of Commonwealth and allied service men and women who spent their leave with us. Unlike my grandmother, who turned her house into a convalescent hospital, our house was too inconvenient and we did not have enough water. Every week, we would bicycle up to a kind neighbour who would let us have baths. We used the same water of course but there was a rotation—some weeks, one was lucky. I also collected pigswill from the aerodrome in the wagonette and ran errands for my father's platoon of Home Guard on my bicycle. Mr Hitler was not kidding us.

But I would like to pay a special tribute to my three gallant aunts who lived in Lambeth. By day, the eldest ran a girl's club for what we would now call "deprived girls". The youngest was a draftsman in the Admiralty, drawing charts of ships and planes. By night, they were air raid wardens. Their house was bombed and they lost everything but the goldfish, which they found alive and well in the pond in their garden, and managed to evacuate to the country. One night, their air raid post received a direct hit. Nineteen of them were buried all night, up to their knees in water. They kept up their spirits by praying, making jokes and singing hymns, of which my aunts knew a great many. When they were dug out in the morning, only five of the 19 were still alive, including my two aunts.

My middle aunt, Victoria, named after her godmother, the Queen, was an engineer in the Merchant Navy, the only one then in the world, so far as I know. From 1922 she made four voyages to Australia, one to China, one to Africa and four to India. In 1940 she helped rescue the troops from Dunkirk. Later, on the "Har Zion", she sailed through mines into the Mediterranean, rescuing the British Expeditionary Force and the British Consul from Marseilles, and brought back a cargo of rice from the Middle East.

In 1941, sailing from Fowey in Cornwall with a cargo of china clay to Norfolk, Virginia, her ship, the "Bonita", was bombed in the Atlantic. Although there were bursts in the engine room, steam and oil escaping everywhere, Aunt Victoria, knowing it would be a death trap if the ship went down, sent out all the crew and insisted on running the engines herself with sufficient revs so that the captain was able to jink and so avoid each salvo of bombs. Hot oil streamed down her face and steam burst and hissed everywhere. The Mate and several members of the crew observed her through the engine room skylight and reported back what she had done. She arrived a heroine in Norfolk, Virginia. A canteen was subscribed in her honour, called the Victoria Drummond Canteen, which served tea and sandwiches at Lambeth North to all those bombed out during the war. She also received the Lloyd's Medal for Bravery at Sea and the MBE.

Later in the war she sailed in convoy across the Atlantic from Halifax, one of the few ships to survive; and around the world in the "Perseus" to America, Australia and South Africa, returning to more bombs in Gibraltar. She sailed up to Murmansk in the "Elsie Beth", and landed troops in Normandy on D-day. At the end of the war she was anchored off Kiel in a ship carrying high explosives. "Be careful with your celebrations", she said. "We don't want to be the biggest firework of all".

For me, Aunt Victoria epitomised what we owe to so many women in the war. She never swore, drank, smoked or raised her voice. Even when she must have been very frightened, she never showed it. She was always calm, brave and resolute. To her, and to millions like her, we all owe a great debt. It would be splendid if, as my noble friend has suggested, we could have a memorial to them all in Trafalgar Square.

8.1 p.m.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, for initiating the debate this evening. As my noble friend Lady Trumpington pointed out, there are not many women in the House old enough to have served during the war. I was of an age to do so. I can speak only from personal experience.

In 1941 I enlisted in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, when I was just 18 years old. I do not recall that any of those who joined at the same time were other than volunteers. Certainly there were no conscripts in my group. It was a considerable cultural shock to sleep on a hard straw mattress in a hut with 27 others out in Gloucestershire. We were then sent on marches on Morecambe front in extremely cold weather in February.

Having decided to be a driver, I was fortunate enough to obtain at that early age a heavy goods vehicle licence—as I was able to tell noble Lords not long ago—after learning to drive a "Queen Mary". Some noble Lords may not know that that was an articulated lorry used for pulling aircraft wings. The girls, as they were then, came from every background. As we were all in the same situation, they made life very interesting and were great company. However, I did learn a great number of swear words which had never been uttered at home. Nowadays I am afraid that I can be heard saying them occasionally when on the golf course.

Having reached the exalted rank of leading aircraftswoman, which equated to a lance corporal, and passing the various car servicing tests required, one could then he posted. I spent three years in Reading, driving a wonderful man who had won the Distinguished Service Order in the First World War. I refused promotion to a corporal, because at that rank I would have had to sit behind a desk, which did not appeal to me.

During my last 18 months of service to 1946 I was in London, driving among others a wonderful air commodore who had lost his leg during the last month of the First World War. He was awarded the last Victoria Cross of the Great War. Wedgie-Benn's father, Lord Stansgate, was one of my bosses. I do regret not having been able to serve abroad, but having had TB at the age of 15, I was not allowed to do so. That was a pity because it would have done me good.

It is possible to sketch only briefly what happened over those five years. I was lucky to survive the V1 bombs which passed right over our house in Sussex and frightened us every weekend. Indeed, I recall that a boyfriend came to sleep in the same room as my mother and myself because we were so scared. I do not know what lie could have done to save us. It was a frightening time. I recall also the threat of the V2s towards the end of the war, when I was in London. My only brother and remaining uncle were killed.

My contribution was very insignificant compared with so many during the war years. Mention has been made of all the different women who took part in war work—nearly all of them volunteers. Later there were conscripts, but I believe that they worked willingly.

In the Golden Jubilee year of Her Majesty's reign, what could be a better time to support the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, in her appeal for a national memorial to the women of World War Two? However, as my noble friend Lady Trumpington pointed out, perhaps we should also recognise those women—a far rarer breed—who served in the Great War. They too did a wonderful job. A number of people have approached me in this House to tell me of their mothers and grandmothers who served in that war.

Being a Member of this House is a great honour. It gives us an opportunity to raise issues of this kind and, it is hoped, to achieve a result. That will depend a great deal on the Government. I leave it to others to decide on the best site for such an important monument, but personally I do not feel that Trafalgar Square is entirely appropriate because it is terribly noisy. Perhaps when it has been pedestrianised, the situation will improve. As I have said, I shall leave it to others to decide on the site. However, I hope that there will be such a memorial.

8.6 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I hope that I shall be allowed to speak briefly in the gap; I cannot resist saying a few words. I wish to salute two kinds of women: the members of my own corps, the Women's Transport Service/FANY in which some, like Odette Hallowes, GC, served bravely and sometimes died in enemy-occupied Europe; while others supported them by working in England, Africa, Italy, later in France and in the Far East as wireless operators, codists and so forth. Those women were an important element of the support for those in the front line. They served long and arduously and with very little recognition.

The second group I wish to commemorate I share with the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley; people like my grandmother and my great aunt. They kept everything going as if nothing were happening; they were undaunted by queues, undaunted by bombs, and if they needed to go somewhere and had to walk, they would walk. They never complained, but remained immensely cheerful. I think that they put everyone else to shame. All those women, each one of them, supported their families who, in turn, probably took them pretty much for granted. I certainly took my family for granted; I expected miracles and I got them. I want to remember them, as I am sure we all do.

The FANYs are particularly dear to me because they, too, served in the First World War. They ran field kitchens, drove ambulances and generally ran the war. Indeed, I think that a great many women ran the last war as well—quietly and unobtrusively, but also most successfully. They all served, and we should remember them.

8.8 p.m.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, I shall detain the House for only a moment to express my warmest support for what has been said by all the speakers in the debate, beginning with the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. I wish to echo the hope already expressed by my noble friend Lady Trumpington and others that any memorial or monument that might result would also acknowledge those who served in the First World War.

I should declare an interest of a kind. My mother belonged to the Women's Army Corps, something thought to be rather fast in those days, but which was very far from fun. All those women did valuable work, but not work that was recognised by entitlement to a war service medal. I hope that that might be taken into account.

8.9 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I am glad to support the debate initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. We should be grateful to her. It is particularly right that we should have a memorial to all the women who contributed to the Second World War. Nowhere save in the Soviet Union were women more effectively mobilised in support of the war effort than in the United Kingdom. Indeed, several speakers have cited examples of their own experiences, which has been wonderful to hear. I was four years old when the war began, so I do not think that my experiences are of as much interest.

Not only do we need to remember and honour them, we need to tell the young people of today what they did. I do not believe that young people today have any idea of what happened during the Second World War. For example, I learnt that at full strength there was nearly one woman in uniform for every 10 men in uniform. I bet not many people realise that.

In almost no cases did women take up arms, but they ferried aircraft; they drove; they were secretaries, telephonists and nurses. A whole range of support services were provided by women in very large numbers. They provided them not only in this country and Europe but across the world, in the Far East, Africa and so on.

The numbers employed in munitions factories have been mentioned already, but there were also 1 million volunteers in the WVS, who also carried out fantastic work. They were the people who, for example, organised the movement of children out of towns and into the countryside because of the Blitz. It is almost impossible to think of any activity in which women did not play a part.

Five hundred thousand women were recruited into the Civil Service and local government as white collar workers. One of them was my mother. She was 30 in 1939 and she took her expertise as a management consultant into the total chaos which war had caused in the clerical services of the Civil Service, and sorted them out in short order. I found a lovely little poem but I shall not recite it to your Lordships because I might stumble over the words while doing so. She was obviously quite a fearsome person in her own way.

I think of the way in which women of all classes and kinds, women who had led sheltered and private lives, found the strength to go out and do something different. My aunt, my stepfather's sister, had lived an extremely sheltered life as the only single member of her family living at home with her parents. But she could drive. So she became a Red Cross driver and drove in London throughout the Blitz. She then went to Belsen with the Red Cross and lived there for two years while the camp was dismantled. She saw all that horror. One can imagine what it would be like after living all your life in a rather grand flat in London, with every comfort, and suddenly being plunged into all that horror, disaster, difficulty and heartbreak. You just have to get going and do what you can do. She then came back and resumed living a lifestyle similar to the one she had lived before. To meet her—she is now 95—no one would know that she had had such an element in her life.

We need to celebrate these women. My only doubt concerns the monument. I do not wish to be controversial—the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, knows 150 times more about this subject than I because she has been so involved in it—but, because of the enormous variety of women's achievements we are trying to celebrate, one might think of a slightly different way of doing so. If I was given the choice, I would favour the site halfway up Whitehall where there are those monumental statues of male generals and a space that has been left by the rather sad removal of Raleigh, one of my great heroes, to the remote parts of the capital city.

We may be able to use the sculpture to which the noble Baroness referred, but a frieze might be more suitable than a statue because, at ground level, it would give a more vivid picture of the many women who served their country in such varied ways during the Second World War.

8.14 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, on introducing this important debate. She is right to draw the House's attention to the enormous contribution which women made to our victory in the Second World War. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Trumpington for her kind words. It is a great privilege for me to be the only man among such a distinguished group of speakers. As a father of five daughters, I always appreciate a woman's point of view.

We on these Benches fully support the proposal for a national memorial. We recognise the contribution made by 7 million women during the Second World War. Without these women victory could not have been achieved. I pay tribute to all those involved with the charity Memorial to the Women of World War II, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, is such an illustrious patron. I pay tribute particularly to the role of Major Robertson, who has driven on the project so enthusiastically from York.

The war was a time of huge social change. Women were serving their country in roles that had traditionally been the preserve of men. Over 640,000 women served in the Armed Forces. My noble friend Lady Sharples has told the House of her distinguished career in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. Thousands more served in the Land Army, like my noble friend Lady Trumpington, who was, after all, Lloyd George's land girl—

Baroness Trumpington

And the only one, my Lords.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, the noble Baroness also helped in the vital work of breaking German codes at Bletchley Park. There were also those who helped to organise resistance groups and passed valuable information back to this country. Thousands more worked in factories, were nurses, ARP wardens, WVS volunteers and ambulance drivers, and my noble friend Lady Park mentioned the FANYs.

We should not forget the contribution made by housewives, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley said. They stayed at home to care for families while everyone else was away. Many, sadly, became widows. Here I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, for the wonderful work she does as president of the War Widows Association.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, is right to point out the sterling work carried out by the brave women of the occupied Channel Islands and the hardships they endured. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that we should try to educate this generation as to what happened in the Second World War.

On a personal level, I am right behind the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. I know that my own late mother, who was proud of her war service with the Red Cross in the east end during the worst of the Blitz, would certainly have approved.

The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, pointed out that the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square is currently the charity's preferred location. If that is not possible, there is a site outside the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall where the statue, in miniature, of Sir Walter Raleigh once stood. I seem to remember that both my noble friend Lady Trumpington and the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, quite rightly had something to do with the removal of that statue. I understand that there is an oil tank underneath that site, but I would hope that with modern engineering technology a way might be found to solve that problem inexpensively, even for a bronze and granite statue.

As a young woman, the Queen was active in the war effort. I look forward to the day when she unveils a memorial, with, I hope, thousands of women veterans marching past. We on these Benches wish this campaign every success and hope that this debate will clear the way for some speedy progress.

8.29 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, I join noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd of Sandwell, for initiating this debate on an important and worthwhile project. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, I do wonder where all our male colleagues are. But it is excellent to see that there are at least some good, strong women making the case for this project.

I know that, as patron of the Memorial to the Women of World War II charity, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, has worked tirelessly, along with John Grogan MP and Hugh Bayley MP to try to get a memorial erected in Whitehall. As always, she has spoken passionately and eloquently about it today.

There is a great deal of support in both Houses for a memorial commemorating the contribution of women during the Second World War. That has been clearly demonstrated by the support for three Early Day Motions on this subject, one of which received over 280 signatures, and the Adjournment debate on the memorial in October 1999 secured by John Grogan.

We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to these women for their contribution to the winning of the war. As has been pointed out, we won the war partly because everyone worked hard and sacrificed an enormous amount to make sure that that happened. This is fully recognised by the Government and we welcome the proposal to have a lasting memorial to the thousands of women who served in the armed services both at home and overseas and to those women who contributed to the war effort at home, in the Women's Land Army, in the fire brigades, in the hospitals and in the factories.

I strongly agree with my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley and the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, in relation the tremendous contribution made by housewives, who had to make do on very little—often on practically nothing—often bringing up their children alone, without the support of their husbands or of other male members of their families who were serving in the Armed Forces away from home, often many thousands of miles away.

Those speakers who are old enough to have worked throughout the war told us a little about their own experiences, which I found fascinating. I found the comments of the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharples and Lady Trumpington, extraordinarily interesting. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, was far too modest about her own contribution, which was obviously of enormous importance.

Some of us are not old enough to have worked during the war. I am possibly the youngest Member to contribute to the debate, and I am about to be 60—no, the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, is considerably younger. I was born in 1942. Many of us have spoken about the contributions of our mothers. My mother, having worked as an actress and model in Paris, came home and joined the auxiliary fire service as a driver. Indeed, she met my father early in the war, who was a commander in the London Fire Brigade. So I should not have existed were it not for the fact that women played such an important part in the civilian defence of this country.

I was interested also in what the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, had to say about the contribution of children. I do not know whether she still has any of the objects that she spent so much time knitting. If so, perhaps she might make a small presentation to the Imperial War Museum. The Imperial War Museum of the North is being opened by the Duke of Edinburgh tomorrow. I am sure that the museum might be interested to receive anything that the noble Baroness still has.

A memorial would be a fitting recognition and a reminder to future generations of the contribution of women during the war, and it might also make people reflect on how women's role in society was changed forever by their efforts. That is an important point and must not be forgotten. There is absolutely no doubt that women of today owe an enormous amount to those women who went out and worked in all kinds of tough and difficult conditions during the war. This needs to be fully recognised.

I strongly agree with the remark of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that young people today need to understand the role of women in the Second World War—not only those in uniform but those in all the other areas referred to, including the Civil Service and local government, where many did immensely important jobs. As the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, said, this was a time of huge social change. One of the most important social changes that took place was a much greater acceptance of the role that women could play outside the home.

The charity must be congratulated on raising more than £140,000 towards the cost of the project, which it is to use as match-funding in a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund. That is an impressive figure considering that many of the members of the charity are pensioners.

This has been a long road for the Memorial charity from its first bid in 1997 to place the statue on the vacant plinth in Trafalgar Square, to consideration of the Raleigh Green site, and now to the site in Whitehall for which it is seeking planning approval. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, that I believe that that is now the preferred site for the memorial. I congratulate members of the charity on their perseverance in the face of a number of obstacles to find a site in Whitehall. I wish the charity well in its current application to Westminster City Council for planning permission. It is vital that planning permission is provided before there can be any agreement about the application that it wishes to make to the Heritage Lottery Fund. Whether any memorial that is eventually built should commemorate those who fought in the First World War, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and others have suggested, is entirely up to the charity.

I must explain briefly my department's role in respect of any proposed new memorials. It is a limited one. Under the Public Statues (Metropolis) Act 1854, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport must give formal approval for any new statue in the Metropolitan Police District of London. Her approval is given on the basis of planning permission being granted by the local planning authority. Because of this role, it is not possible for Ministers to become involved in memorial projects.

The noble Baroness asked also about the issuing of a special grant by government. She will not be altogether surprised to hear that, unfortunately, my department has no budget for funding memorials. Memorials have always been funded by fund-raising and by public donations rather than by direct funding from the taxpayer. I am sure that the noble Baroness will find that disappointing, but I am afraid that it is the position.

The noble Baroness asked who has responsibility as regards the vacant plinth in Trafalgar Square. It is indeed the Mayor who has the responsibility under the provisions of the Greater London Authority Act 1999.

This has been an extremely interesting debate on a subject that I think is very close to the hearts of many people. Greater, permanent and more visible recognition of the role of women during World War II is in my view long overdue. The Government look forward to the completion of a fitting memorial and wish the Memorial to the Women of World War II charity every success in achieving this very soon.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.36 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.31 to 8.36 p.m.]