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Remembrance Day

Volume 688: debated on Wednesday 24 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they plan to put greater emphasis in their annual Remembrance Day services on the role played by other states in ensuring victory.

My Lords, there are currently no plans to change the emphasis of, or the representative participants in, the annual Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. The two minutes’ silence, the wreath laid by Her Majesty the Queen and the other tributes placed on the Cenotaph are dedicated to all those who have suffered and died in war. The ceremony itself is traditional in nature and its emphasis remains remembrance.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. This is, after all, our biggest annual symbol of national memory. It rather distresses me that it is so white and unilateralist. It looks as if it is a symbol of the UK Independence Party. On their major celebration of national unity on 14 July, the French Government often invite units from other countries to participate—including, two years ago, a substantial number of British units—in order to symbolise the co-operation they have with other countries. Moroccan, Algerian and other troops who fought with the French in the Second World War have also attended. Could we not help to educate our younger generation, who do not remember the Second World War, about the combined effort, involving the Poles, the Indians, the Canadians and the Americans, who fought with us in the Second World War and died alongside our men and women?

My Lords, the ceremony is a remembrance ceremony; it is not a celebration of nationality. The French have their service on 11 November at the Arc de Triomphe and follow very much the same pattern as we do. If the noble Lord is indicating that we are not making a sufficient impact on the young, I should emphasise that more than 80 per cent of Britons, young and old, regard the two minutes’ silence and Remembrance Day as of great significance. Of course, all members who have served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces under British command, who cover a very wide range of ethnic communities across the world and 14 faiths, are represented at the national Service of Remembrance.

My Lords, there are some very good practical examples of how the contribution of people who fought during the world war and lost their lives is recognised. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, is to be congratulated on establishing the Memorial Gates on Constitution Hill, but is it not time that that contribution was also recognised during the Remembrance Day service by bringing the different nations together?

My Lords, the issue is bringing different communities together in an act of remembrance of the sacrifice of all those who died in war. The service has its origins in the commemoration of the First World War but it will be recognised that it also commemorates all those who died in subsequent wars. The representative nature of what takes place at the Cenotaph, and of those who participate in the ceremony, reflect the great diversity of all those who made their contribution to the freedom of this country and others in the First World War, the Second World War and subsequent conflicts.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a revised order of the Remembrance Sunday service for use across the nation has been produced by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland in consultation with the Royal British Legion, of which I declare an interest as the national chaplain? The notes to the service suggest appropriate participation of other faiths to enable Muslims, Hindus and others, many of whom have family members from earlier generations among the fallen, to join liturgically in those local acts of remembrance when it is appropriate to the local context to do so.

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for reminding the House of that fact. I have stood at remembrance services in Oldham alongside Lord Mayors from the Pakistani community and from the Bangladeshi community. I do not think there is any doubt that the whole of Oldham participated in those experiences.

My Lords, at a time when there is a certain amount of prejudice against Polish immigrants, and when we face a number of concerns about south Asian and other minorities, would it not be a good idea to remind the younger generation of the contributions that people from those countries made to our common effort in the Second World War?

My Lords, we all recognise what the noble Lord has rightly emphasised. It is emphasised in the Royal British Legion teaching packs that are produced for schools. Some 50,000 have been produced to form part of the teaching of citizenship in schools. That is part of the work of the Imperial War Museum, which, during November, plays its part for young people in increasing the concept of citizenship as an appreciation of those who have made sacrifices in warfare on behalf of this country and others. We all know that the Poles played a very significant part in the Second World War, particularly with regard to the Royal Air Force, and we also appreciate the fact that the Poles are always represented at the march past.

My Lords, as president of the War Widows’ Association of Great Britain, I was privileged—I use that word advisedly—to take part in last year’s service at the Cenotaph. I was amazed at the cross-section of different peoples and young people who were present. Indeed, noble Lords may be aware that the war widows were walking behind the Gurkhas; or trying to march behind them. They got ahead of us because they marched so fast.

My Lords, of course the Gurkhas are always represented in the march past, and their contribution is appreciated. I reassure the noble Lord who asked this Question that there is great concern that young people be aware of the sacrifices of the past. I merely set out to reassure him that this is going on, and all evidence indicates that it is appreciated by young people.