House of Lords
Monday 5 November 2018
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Coventry.
Deaths of Members
My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, on 2 November. On behalf of the House, I extend our sincere condolences to the noble Lord’s family and friends.
I also regret to inform the House of the death on 4 November of Lord Heywood of Whitehall, who had not yet had the opportunity to take his seat. On behalf of the House, I pay tribute to his outstanding record of public service, and I extend our condolences to Lord Heywood’s family and friends.
Devolution: Sheffield City Region
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure that the Sheffield City Region Devolution Deal comes to fruition.
My Lords, the Government’s priority remains completing the Sheffield City Region devolution deal, which would bring £900 million of investment to that region. To achieve this, the next step is for the Sheffield City Region to undertake the statutory consultation on the powers to be devolved and we will continue to support the city region mayor in his commitment to implement this deal.
I thank the Minister for that Answer and I bring to the House’s attention my interest declared in the register as a member of Sheffield City Council. It is clear that there is stalemate: the four local authority leaders in South Yorkshire cannot agree a way forward. Despite the fact that the order for the election has been through this House, the order for the powers and the money have not. In the light of that, when will the Secretary of State meet the four leaders and the elected mayor of the Sheffield City Region, as he has not done so since he became the Secretary of State six months ago? If the leaders cannot find a way forward in this stalemate, will a timescale be put on before the deal is withdrawn?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord’s service to Sheffield City Council—indeed, as leader at one stage. Regarding the deal, the best legal advice given both to the mayor and to us is that consultation is necessary, so that is the next statutory step and it is what we are pressing for. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has indicated to the Select Committee that he will be making a statement on devolution in general during the autumn. I do not think that he has any specific plans to meet the four city leaders as the way forward is quite clear regarding the statutory requirements.
My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my relevant interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. As the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said, we are at an impasse. When is the Minister going to do something about it?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the very brief question. As I have indicated, and in fairness to the city mayor, he is trying to ensure that the consultation takes place, because that is the necessary next statutory step according to the legal advice that he and we have received. The legislation has gone through both Houses. The way forward is for that to happen. More widely, it is worth remembering that a third of England is now covered by devolution deals, including London. As I have indicated, the Secretary of State will be making a statement shortly, during the autumn.
My Lords, surely it is important to note that the local authorities concerned in South Yorkshire were very keen on having devolution. They were the ones who pressed for it, and the Government responded, as the Government will always do. Is it not now for those authorities and the elected mayor to work with the Government to get that devolution concluded?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that. It is true to say that the four local authorities came forward with proposals—we progress these deals only if there is consent among local authorities. As I said, the mayor is seeking to progress the deal, as, in fairness, are two of the local authorities, Sheffield and Rotherham. The other two, Doncaster and Barnsley, are not doing so at the moment, but they need to do so for us to progress it. It has been through both Houses of Parliament; considerable time and energy have been invested on it.
My Lords, can the Minister tell us the timetable for the consultation to be undertaken and concluded?
My Lords, as I said, we have not yet progressed the consultation because two of the local authorities are unwilling to do so. Once they have agreed to it, I think the consultation will be straightforward; it is about the precise shape of the deal. I do not have the precise time limits, but I will write to the noble Lord and copy the letter to the Library.
My Lords, the Minister said in a previous reply that a third of the population of England has a devolution deal, yet Yorkshire, with a 5 million population, has no deal at all, although there is a desire from both South Yorkshire and the whole of Yorkshire for a deal. When will the Government open the dam to allow a deal to occur, because there is real desire in Yorkshire to take on the responsibilities that the Government could devolve to it?
My Lords, Sheffield is certainly in Yorkshire, and there is a deal there that we seek to take forward; it has been through both Houses. As for the rest of Yorkshire, as I said, the Secretary of State will be making a Statement on devolution in general. I have also said that nothing can happen in relation to broader Yorkshire until the Sheffield deal moves forward.
My Lords, given the failure of vocational training, would it not make sense to transfer all vocational training to mayors and to local areas that do not have a mayor?
My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, the former is largely already happening. For example, with Sheffield, training is moving forward; it is part of the essence of devolution deals. I do not think that it would really rest with smaller authorities, but with devolution deals, the noble Lord has a very good point.
My Lords, perhaps my noble friend can enlighten me. Am I right in thinking that all the authorities concerned and the elected mayor are Labour? In my area, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, we have Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative authorities working together successfully to support the Greater Cambridge Partnership and our city deal. Should not the same, at the least, be expected of Labour authorities working together rather than pointing their fingers at the Government?
My Lords, noble Lords will be aware that I do not seek to be partisan on these things, but the noble Lord has a point in that regard. It is best when local authorities come together, across parties, to move things forward. As he has indicated, that is happening in relation to Cambridge and Peterborough. It is also happening in relation to Teesside but—alas—not at the moment in Sheffield or broader Tyneside, although I am pleased that last week we took the decision to move forward with north Tyneside.
My Lords, if, instead of devolution, we had delegation, it would get these things through much more quickly. It would be much more effective without any of the constitutional problems that are posed by devolution.
My Lords, there is a line to be drawn between delegation and democracy, although certainly, looking at Sheffield, democracy does not seem to have taken us as far forward as many of us would have liked.
My Lords, are there any other examples of deadlock elsewhere in the country blocking progress towards city deals?
My Lords, the only other example until recently was in relation to Tyneside, where south Tyneside, Gateshead and the Durham authorities, including Sunderland, could not agree with north Tyneside; but we moved forward with north Tyneside on its own and with special arrangements in relation to the transport authority.
Ex-Offenders: Training and Employment
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to provide greater training and employment opportunities for ex-offenders.
My Lords, our Education and Employment Strategy was published in May this year. Governors are being empowered to commission education provision that leads to work, and we are building better links between prisons and businesses to ensure that those who leave prison are ready for work. We have launched the New Futures Network to engage and persuade employers to take on ex-prisoners.
My Lords, I welcome these initiatives and acknowledge freely that David Gauke and Rory Stewart are much more enlightened and progressive than some of their predecessors. However, it is very depressing that, in a recent survey, only half of employers said that they would consider employing ex-offenders. I suggest that a senior and respected figure from the private sector—perhaps someone who has just retired—could be appointed to encourage more employers to take on ex-offenders, to work with them and chivvy them along. Surely this would make sense. Given that ex-offenders cost the country about £15 billion a year, would it not make sense to consider some kind of financial inducement to encourage employers?
My Lords, the good news is that half of employers might be interested in employing ex-offenders. Certainly, the noble Lord is completely right: we need to encourage people from the wider business community to encourage their colleagues to look to ex-offenders as potential employees. That is why the New Futures Network is appointing business ambassadors, who will do that for key sectors. For example, we have Timpson Group covering the retail sector—10% of Timpson’s employees are ex-offenders—and we have Landsec doing the same for construction and Mitie for agriculture and horticulture.
My Lords, will the Minister comment on any particular training or employment opportunities available to ex-offenders with learning disabilities? I understand that they have a very high rate of reoffending of around 40%.
The noble Baroness is completely right. Of course, that is one of the challenges that we face in our prison communities. We know that one-third of prisoners have learning difficulties or a disability. That is why it all comes back to education: we need to make sure that the education provision is right for all ex-offenders, whether they have learning difficulties or a disability. We do this by empowering our governors to commission the services that work for their prison community.
My Lords, will the Minister join with me in congratulating Arsenal Football Club and its players on the work that they have committed themselves to doing, which involves going into prisons and helping current offenders to become motivated and receive training that will equip them better for when they leave prison?
I completely agree with the noble Lord. Arsenal is leading the way in this. I would like all Premier League football clubs to do the same in their local communities.
My Lords, does the Minister think that an extension of the temporary release scheme would help in this context?
My noble friend makes a very good point. If we can get prisoners out of prison and into the community to undertake some work experience, that will be hugely beneficial. At the moment, 7,500 prisoners have had at least one release—an increase of 7%—and we are looking at more ways to improve this. We have allowed governors to tailor their ROTL regime by prisoner, and we are developing a new framework for ROTL to ensure that more of the more appropriate prisoners can get out to get the valuable work experience that they need.
My Lords, given that the lack of joined-up local partnership was a central criticism made by Dame Glenys Stacey’s annual report on probation for last year, what are the Government doing to build into their new contracts with the community rehabilitation companies firm obligations to work with the voluntary sector and local private businesses to provide training and employment for offenders, both those serving community sentences and offenders on their release from custody?
My Lords, the community rehabilitation companies are an important part of our probation service. Noble Lords will know that we are ending the current CRC contracts early; some things have worked well, and some things, frankly, have not. We have sought feedback from a number of proposals to improve the structure and content, and we are talking to third sector organisations. The public consultation ended on 21 September. I also acknowledge the recommendations which were brought forward in the Justice Select Committee’s report. The Government will look at all these items—of course, any contributions from the noble Lord will be very welcome—and we will respond early next year.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that local authorities have potentially an important role to play in this matter, and will she undertake to approach the Local Government Association to see whether that can be translated into practice?
I believe that local authorities have an important part to play so, yes, I am happy to do that.
My Lords, mental health issues are finally being acknowledged as a matter of national concern. What are the Government doing to ensure that the mental health and well-being of women in prisons is being supported, as well as the need for training and skills?
The noble Baroness is quite right and, indeed, we have covered this at Questions and in debates recently. The needs of women in prisons are slightly different to the needs of men; mental health is an important part of that, and we know that self-harming rates are higher among women than they are among men. We recognise all these things, which is why our Female Offender Strategy, which was announced earlier this year, focuses particularly on mental health, to make sure that the environment in which female offenders are kept is appropriate for them and that they have the support that they need.
My Lords, the Minister has no doubt heard of the organisation Prosper, which was founded by an ex-offender. It has currently 3,000 jobs on offer to ex-prisoners online, but the Prison Service can produce only 200 names to fill those places. Can the Minister please assure the House that there is co-ordination between all organisations offering jobs to ex-offenders?
I certainly commend the work of Prosper, and I am surprised to hear the figures that the noble Lord mentioned. I will do some more digging in this area to find out why this disparity exists, and will then write to the noble Lord and put a copy in the Library.
Pornographic Websites: Age Verification
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what will be the commencement date for their plans to ensure that age-verification to prevent children accessing pornographic websites is implemented by the British Board of Film Classification.
My Lords, we are now in the final stages of the process, and we have laid the BBFC’s draft guidance and the Online Pornography (Commercial Basis) Regulations before Parliament for approval. We will ensure that there is a sufficient period following parliamentary approval for the public and the industry to prepare for age verification. Once parliamentary proceedings have concluded, we will set a date by which commercial pornography websites will need to be compliant, following an implementation window. We expect that this date will be early in the new year.
I thank the Minister for his Answer. I cannot wait for that date to happen, but does he share my disgust and horror that social media companies such as Twitter state that their minimum age for membership is 13 yet make no attempt to restrict some of the most gross forms of pornography being exchanged via their platforms? Unfortunately, the Digital Economy Act does not affect these companies because they are not predominantly commercial porn publishers. Does he agree that the BBFC needs to develop mechanisms to evaluate the effectiveness of the legislation for restricting children’s access to pornography via social media sites and put a stop to this unacceptable behaviour?
My Lords, I agree that there are areas of concern on social media sites. As the noble Baroness rightly says, they are not covered by the Digital Economy Act. We had many hours of discussion about that in this House. However, she will be aware that we are producing an online harms White Paper in the winter in which some of these issues will be considered. If necessary, legislation will be brought forward to address these, and not only these but other harms too. I agree that the BBFC should find out about the effectiveness of the limited amount that age verification can do; it will commission research on that. Also, the Digital Economy Act itself made sure that the Secretary of State must review its effectiveness within 12 to 18 months.
My Lords, once again I find this issue raising a dynamic that we became familiar with in the only too recent past. The Government are to be congratulated on getting the Act on to the statute book and, indeed, on taking measures to identify a regulator as well as to indicate that secondary legislation will be brought forward to implement a number of the provisions of the Act. My worry is that, under one section of the Digital Economy Act, financial penalties can be imposed on those who infringe this need; the Government seem to have decided not to bring that provision into force at this time. I believe I can anticipate the Minister’s answer but—in view of the little drama we had last week over fixed-odds betting machines—we would not want the Government, having won our applause in this way, to slip back into putting things off or modifying things away from the position that we had all agreed we wanted.
My Lords, I completely understand where the noble Lord is coming from but what he said is not quite right. The Digital Economy Act included a power that the Government could bring enforcement with financial penalties through a regulator. However, they decided—and this House decided—not to use that for the time being. For the moment, the regulator will act in a different way. But later on, if necessary, the Secretary of State could exercise that power. On timing and FOBTs, we thought carefully—as noble Lords can imagine—before we said that we expect the date will be early in the new year,
My Lords, does the Minister agree that good health and sex education might be a way to counter some of the damaging effects? Can the Government make sure that is in place as soon as possible, so that this strange fantasy world is made slightly more real?
The noble Lord is of course right that age verification itself is not the only answer. It does not cover every possibility of getting on to a pornography site. However, it is the first attempt of its kind in the world, which is why not only we but many other countries are looking at it. I agree that sex education in schools is very important and I believe it is being brought into the national curriculum already.
Why is there so much wriggle room in section 6 of the guidance from the DCMS to the AV regulator? The ISP blocking probably will not work, because everyone will just get out of it. If we bring this into disrepute then the good guys, who would like to comply, probably will not; they will not be able to do so economically. All that was covered in British Standard PAS 1296, which was developed over three years. It seems to have been totally ignored by the DCMS. You have spent an awful lot of time getting there, but you have not got there.
One of the reasons this has taken so long is that it is complicated. We in the DCMS, and many others, not least in this House, have spent a long time discussing the best way of achieving this. I am not immediately familiar with exactly what section 6 says, but when the statutory instrument comes before this House—it is an affirmative one to be discussed—I will have the answer ready for the noble Earl.
My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the possession of a biometric card by the population would make the implementation of things such as this very much easier?
In some ways it would, but there are problems with people who either do not want to or cannot have biometric cards.
Design Engineer Construct Programme
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Department for Education will reconsider allowing Design Engineer Construct levels 2 and 3 as project-based qualifications.
My Lords, the Department for Education recently published the list of technical qualifications approved for inclusion in the 2020 performance tables for schools and colleges. To ensure the quality and robustness of qualifications included in performance tables, they must demonstrate a number of characteristics, including an appropriate assessment methodology. The Design Engineer Construct qualifications were reviewed as part of that process, but did not demonstrate all the necessary characteristics for inclusion in the 2020 performance tables.
My Lords, I am sure the Minister would agree that there is actually a shortage of young people who are entering into design and construction, especially young girls. If we take away project-based skills such as set out by DEC, that reduces the number of people who will make that as a life choice. That means that most young people would be forced into an exam-based system whereas this subject lends itself to a project-based approach. Will the Minister agree to meet with those behind the DEC project to look for a way forward?
I can certainly agree to arrange a meeting for the noble Lord. I would like to give a little more information on the back of the decision that has been made. The qualifications for Design Engineer Construct were reviewed a total of three times during the approval process by the department. After each of the first two reviews, feedback was given to the awarding organisation so that they could improve. Unfortunately, after an appeal, it was still unsuccessful. It is standards that we are talking about here, which are very important.
My Lords, it is entirely illogical for such a valuable learning programme to be removed from the league table points, given its value to the built environment. This programme is respected by academia, business and the profession. Can the Minister say what impact assessment was made of the loss of young people developing the skills and knowledge for professional progression in the construction industry, which as we know is desperately short of skilled people? I would also echo my noble friend’s concern that only 2% of the construction workforce is female.
In answering the noble Baroness’s question I would say that it is not the end of the road, because schools and colleges can offer any qualification that has been accredited by Ofqual and approved for teaching to the appropriate age group, under Section 96 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. It is up to schools, therefore, to decide whether they want to continue with this particular qualification—although it is unlikely that they will do so, because they are not going to be listed on the performance tables. Again, what we are talking about is the greatest shake-up that we are undertaking of post-16 education since A-levels were introduced 70 years ago.
My Lords, there is little understanding of the built environment professions. As the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, says, few young people aspire to a career in what is a significant sector of the economy. That is why Design Engineer Construct was developed as a learning programme for school students, to help to inspire and create the next generation of those professionals. Surely they should be given every encouragement to flourish in that endeavour? From what the Minister says, that is not the case so far. When will the Government end their obsession with the English baccalaureate and accept that a place at a Russell Group university is not the appropriate destination for every young person, and instead encourage young people to get the sorts of employability skills that Design Engineer Construct will provide?
We are on the same page. I hope the noble Lord will understand that we are undertaking a number of very important reviews, looking particularly at the 16 to 18 year group. The T-level rollout is one of the most important schemes, and we are on track to roll out the first three from September 2020 and a further 12 from then on. This is joined up with other reviews: we want to provide a seamless approach from a younger age with better career progression and management for young people; and to make sure that we push people up the vocational route into the right positions to produce the skills that we need for the economy in the future.
My Lords, I believe I am allowed to ask a second question—I have read the book. The Minister put forward the idea that 16 to 18 year-olds should be pushed into this area. I have children who have just been through this process. They have to make exam choices which will affect their academic career far earlier than that. Unless they have decided on a career before they take their GCSEs, they are unlikely to move into this sector afterwards. Does the Minister agree that it is important to look at the 11 and 12 year-old age gap?
Yes; I think it is fair to say that we are looking at all the age gaps. Career management is often raised from the noble Lord’s Benches. He will know that the National Careers Service provides independent professional advice. The Careers & Enterprise Company is ensuring that every young person has access to inspiring encounters with the world of work. The important point here is that we are engaging work in schools to be sure that young people are given the inspiration and advice they need to take the right career path.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that there is a strategic implication to this lack of engineering skills, particularly in the military. We have a huge shortage of engineer officers, particularly within the Navy and Air Force. It was our engineers and scientists who helped us to win the First World War—100 years ago—and the Second World War. Surely more can be done to help ensure that youngsters see engineering as an exciting prospect, with opportunities for all sorts of jobs, which they should try to do.
The noble Lord is absolutely right. We are investing nearly £7 billion in this academic year to ensure that there is a place in education or training—particularly for engineering— for every 16 to 18 year-old. I see that my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking is in his seat. At least a couple of university technical colleges are being used to roll out the new T-levels, which is very good news.
I thank the Minister for referring to UTCs. The decision to remove these two exams is a mistake. It reduces further the amount of technical education in our secondary schools. Design and technology has already fallen by 57% in the lifetime of this Government. T-levels in engineering will not come in until 2023 and 2025. University technical colleges are the only colleges in the country that every year provide employable technicians and engineers at 16 and 18. We should have many more of them.
I thank my noble friend for his less than helpful reply; I was trying to be helpful to him. I hope he will understand that much effort and focus have gone into these particular Design Engineer Construct qualifications. At the end of the day, it was deemed that they were not up to the standard required.
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty's Government, in the light of four fatal stabbings in London in the last week, what action is being taken to address the dramatic rise in knife crime in that city and in the rest of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice.
My Lords, knife crime has a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities. To combat serious violence, our strategy addresses the root causes of crime with a focus on early intervention alongside tough law enforcement. The Government are very concerned about increases in knife crime and its impact on victims, families and communities. The action we are taking is set out in our serious violence strategy and includes new legislation in the Offensive Weapons Bill, the community fund to support local initiatives, the #knifefree media campaign, and continuing police action under Operation Sceptre.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Behind these terrible, tragic stabbings, and the general rise in knife crime across our country—not just in London—lie countless human tragedies. Many families will never recover from the loss of a loved one through such a murder, and our sympathy goes out to them. Does the Minister agree with the call from the London mayor for a long-term public health approach to this problem, and will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that it is properly funded?
I join the right reverend Prelate in his sympathy for the families—it must be devastating for every family that has lost someone to such a dreadful crime. The right reverend Prelate may remember that in October the Home Secretary announced further measures, including a commitment to consult on a new legal duty to underpin a public health approach to tackling serious violence, bringing all relevant partners together and making this a top priority. It will be supported by a youth endowment fund— £200 million over 10 years from 2020—to divert young people from crime and violence. He is absolutely right to suggest a multiagency approach.
My Lords, we all deplore the level of knife crime and its impact on the many people who are affected. We all support the London mayor’s call for a long-term approach. Nevertheless, since 2010 the Government have maintained that the level of crime is not influenced by reductions in the number of police officers and in neighbourhood policing. The Met Police Commissioner said last week that forces were stretched. In the light of the increase in violent crime, the increase in reported crime, falling clear-up rates and the increase in the number of crimes that do not even get properly investigated, will the Government confirm that it is still their view that the number of police officers, which has fallen considerably since 2010, has no impact on the incidence and level of crime?
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord would agree that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and the policing Minister have acknowledged the increasing calls on police time and resources, particularly over the past two years, but our analysis points to a range of factors driving serious violence, most notably in the drugs market. The Government, therefore, understand that police demand is changing and becoming much more complex. Noble Lords will know—I have said it before—that the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service has visited police forces across England and Wales and that was why the funding settlement of more than £460 million in 2018-19 was arrived at. Early intervention is, however, crucial in this area, particularly for young people.
My Lords, these deaths are a tragedy, and our thoughts are with all those affected. Clearly there are long-term issues, which the noble Baroness has referred to, but if we are to get knives off the street we need the police and communities to work together so that stop and search can be accurately targeted at those actually carrying the knives. How can this be done when community policing has been devastated by the Government’s cuts to police budgets? There is nothing in the Government’s anti-violence strategy about increasing police resources.
My Lords, the noble Lord points to something important about stop and search—it has to be intelligence-led and there have to be sufficient police officers to deal with it. In terms of the community, the noble Lord points to something very important. Community projects to tackle knife crime may be one of the most effective ways of dealing with this scourge that has blighted communities for the past few years.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that there are probably three major causes of the rise in violence, particularly murders, that we have seen more of in London than perhaps in the rest of the country? The first is the supply of cocaine. Street-level dealing is now online dealing—apparently it can be delivered quicker than pizza—and something has to happen to intervene in that supply. The National Crime Agency might do more because 90% of cocaine comes from South America. Street-level dealing has to be attacked by local police who must do something about that. The Government could invest more in that.
Secondly, more technology could help officers on the streets to identify the people who carry knives. There are clearly too many people carrying knives and we have to intervene where that is happening to stop the almost accidental use of knives.
Finally, there is a correlation between more young people, particularly young men, gathering and a rise in violence. We need to see more police resources invested in those areas. Does the Minister agree that the investment of resources in those areas in particular, where we have lost 24,000 police officers over the last few years, is vital now—not in the long term—for a public health attempt to improve the situation?
My Lords, I agree with all the points made by the noble Lord; he will have heard the Home Secretary’s words about future funding. The noble Lord is right about the scourge of drugs, and the fact that cocaine can be delivered quicker than pizza is really concerning. The police should make the most of technology on the streets and of intelligence as well. But make no mistake: the issue of drugs is something that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has committed to tackle in the most vigorous of ways because the two are linked.
My Lords, back in 1999, at the end of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, when the spate of knife crime started, resources were put into Trident. This problem of people being killed on the street did not seem to warrant the same importance then. Now we hear when a young person has been killed that it is a fatal incident. What has changed from back in 1999 when so many young black men were losing their lives? Nobody took much notice then, but now it is seen as a fatal crime. Will the Minister explain the difference between then and now?
The difference between then and now—and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for all the work that she has done in this area following the terrible death of her son—is that the increase in knife crime has become quite unprecedented over the last few years. Therefore, the Government, through legislation, through non-legislative measures and through their work with the police and local communities, are determined to tackle it.
My Lords, the Minister will know that knife crime is only part of the problem. There have been 100 murders in London this year—45 happened in houses and flats and 21 of those were as a result of domestic violence. Is it time for the Government to make misogyny a hate crime?
My Lords, in terms of the types of hate crime that police forces choose to prioritise and the resources that they use to prioritise them, I do not disagree with the noble Baroness that reports of domestic abuse are on the increase. In some ways, that is good because people are actually reporting incidents. But what the police home in on has to be a matter for local police forces and what they think are the trends and needs in their areas.
Further Education Bodies (Insolvency) Regulations 2018
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 5 September be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 30 October.
My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Agnew, I beg to move the Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper.
Armistice Day: Centenary
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the centenary of the Armistice at the end of the First World War.
My Lords, it is a privilege to open this debate, as it has been a privilege to be the Minister responsible for the First World War commemorations. The last four years of First World War centenary commemorations have both reflected and galvanised the nation’s desire to honour those who sacrificed so much for our freedom, while also helping people to understand and connect with the experiences of our forebears.
In six days’ time, on the centenary of the Armistice, the Government will conclude these important commemorations, while inspiring, we hope, individuals and communities to continue to learn about the impact and legacy of the war. On Sunday, the nation will, as usual, pause to remember all those who died during the First World War and in every conflict since. But we will also give thanks for the end of that war, and to all those who returned to their families. We will reflect on the price which was paid and continued to be paid generations after the first shots were fired in 1914—shots which were followed by a war so bloody, and on such an unprecedented, industrial scale, that even today it is difficult to comprehend.
There can be no doubt that the First World War is inescapably linked in the nation’s collective mind to death and suffering. Over the centenary, we have reflected on the sacrifice, bloodshed and horror of war. But it is also right that on this historic date we recognise the importance of a hard-won victory. That victory was due in no small part to the significant contribution of our allies from the Commonwealth and beyond. We have worked with them throughout the centenary period to mark some of the key battles and campaigns. On 4 August 2014, events were held in Glasgow, Westminster Abbey and Saint-Symphorien, Belgium, to commemorate the outbreak of the war. Later, my department led the delivery of emotionally charged international events to mark the centenaries of the Gallipoli campaign and the battles of Jutland, the Somme and Passchendaele. Tens of thousands of people with familial or emotional connections to these events joined members of the Royal Family, diplomats and senior military figures, along with representatives of our allies and our former enemies. Millions more watched on television.
In August of this year, I attended a service in Amiens Cathedral to commemorate the Battle of Amiens. This battle was one of the turning points of the war, and heralded the start of the Hundred Days Offensive which lasted from Amiens to the Armistice. Our international partners, the Governments of France, Canada, Australia and—for the first time—the United States, helped us to deliver this event. In an echo of the successful coalition of 100 years earlier, it was a moving and memorable experience. We were pleased to welcome His Excellency Joachim Gauck, former President of the Federal Republic of Germany. The German Government have been hugely supportive of our commemorations, and I am delighted that the current German President, His Excellency Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has accepted Her Majesty’s Government’s invitation in this special year to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph next Sunday and to attend the event at Westminster Abbey that evening. That spirit of friendship and reconciliation was also reflected in our commemorations of the Gallipoli campaign, where we welcomed the participation of the Turkish Government and armed forces.
These high-profile ceremonial events have, importantly, been complemented by an extensive programme of cultural and educational activities. Our stated themes, as set out by the then Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012, were remembrance, youth and education. Indeed, youth has been a key theme of the centenary programme since it was announced in 2012. All the Government’s First World War programmes have been designed to engage children and young people, including, for example, school battlefield tours, the Great War school debate series, and the 14-18 NOW cultural programme. Schools and organisations working with young people can also join the Imperial War Museum’s centenary partnership and get involved in events taking place near them. Young people from the National Citizen Service, the National Youth Choir of Scotland and the National Youth Choir of Great Britain had prominent roles in our commemorative events in 2017 and 2018.
The Government established the 14-18 NOW cultural programme in 2012 to work with artists in order to tell new stories through the mediums of culture and art. We have since seen the emergence of a new model for learning about heritage and the complexities of conflict through the arts with, we hope, an important legacy, especially in connecting young people with the centenary. 14-18 NOW has engaged more than 35 million people in the centenary, including 7.5 million young people under the age of 25. In doing so, it created new memories and helped explain the nature and impact of the war to people from all walks of life and of all ages. Works by an extraordinarily diverse range of artists from the UK and abroad have helped to highlight the contributions to the First World War of people from many different countries and backgrounds. Poets from the Caribbean and the Caribbean diaspora, visual artists from India and Bangladesh, performers from South Africa and musicians from Syria, among others, have all highlighted in their different ways the global reach and impact of war.
In addition to large-scale national events, we have sought to highlight the enormous contribution made by those Commonwealth nations who came to Britain’s aid. Some 2.5 million men and women from the Commonwealth and Empire answered the call to fight, with 200,000 laying down their lives. They left their homes in the Indian subcontinent, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Newfoundland, Africa and the Caribbean to serve the Allied cause. Commonwealth nations will rightly be represented at the Cenotaph and in Westminster Abbey on Sunday. I said “men and women”, and we do not forget the role of women in the First World War. All government commemorative events have recognised the role that women played in the war effort, be it as factory workers, nurses on the Western Front and at home, or as loved ones sending letters to the battlefield. Of course, last year marked the historic landmark of the first women getting the vote in this country.
Nor have we forgotten the role of Ireland. When the then Prime Minister and the then Taoiseach met in 2016, they reaffirmed that the UK and Irish Governments would continue to mark key First World War events in a spirit of mutual respect, inclusiveness and friendship. This was demonstrated in the shared approach to the Battle of Messines Ridge, commemorated on 7 June 2017, which was attended by the Duke of Cambridge and the then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny.
On 11 November 1918 the news of the signing of the Armistice was celebrated on these shores with music, street parties and parades, and with the ringing of church bells. On Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph this year, when we salute all those who died in conflicts since the First World War, we will share our usual sombre moment of remembrance. We will, of course, have the two-minute silence. We will reflect on what we have learned since 1918 and on the damaged lives of those who are affected by war.
The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 was an iconic moment in our history. In writings and recordings, soldiers often struggled to articulate how they felt at the moment the guns stopped firing. They reported a mixture of joy, relief, grief and often a sort of exhausted numbness—but there was also, for many, a sense of achievement and justice at what they understandably regarded as a significant and, despite everything, popular victory. Accordingly, after the service of remembrance we will move toward a spirit of thanksgiving for victory and toward the care and celebration of, and concern for, those who returned. And let us not forget the perhaps underreported fact that 88% of those who fought for the Allied cause returned home alive, if not always whole in body or mind.
So this year, the traditional Royal British Legion parade of veterans will be followed by an additional procession of 10,000 members of the public who wish to pay personal tribute and give thanks to the generation who served. The procession will be complemented by the nationwide ringing of bells from 12.30 pm, and at various times throughout the rest of the world—often the very same bells which rang out after four years of silence 100 years ago. In the evening, there will be a national service of thanksgiving in Westminster Abbey. Her Majesty the Queen and the President of Germany will be joined by guests who have contributed so much to commemorative projects of all types in communities across the country since 2014. Similar services will take place in Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff, Glasgow Cathedral and St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.
I will take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the devolved Administrations to ensure that the particular contributions of Scottish, Welsh and Irish soldiers have been properly recognised. They have worked closely with us throughout the centenary period to complement our national commemorations and ensure that every part of the United Kingdom has had opportunities to engage with the stories and experiences of the war. In recent months, there has been an unprecedented amount of locally organised commemorative activity up and down the country, as the nations come together as never before to remember the events of a century ago.
The Government have been expertly supported throughout the centenary programme by its advisory group, consisting of highly regarded historians, former senior members of the Armed Forces, parliamentarians, writers, academics, journalists and others, some of whom are participating in today’s debate. I thank them all for devoting their time to advise us. I also extend my thanks to the Prime Minister’s special representative for First World War commemorations, Dr Andrew Murrison MP, whose work since 2013 in guiding these commemorations has been exceptional. Finally, the commemoration team at DCMS has organised events both here and abroad, and showed diplomacy, energy, sensitivity and enthusiasm that were a credit to this country. I thank them all.
I hope that it is not disrespectful to say that, although there have been moments of worry and emotion, I have enjoyed taking part in the last half of the four-year commemoration. In that vein, I greatly look forward to listening to your Lordships’ speeches today. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the Minister and to have the opportunity to thank him and his department for their extraordinary leadership over the past four extraordinary years. Imagination and inclusion seem to have been exactly the characteristics needed, and were indeed what his department provided.
We have had four extraordinary years, and it is now time to reflect on the Armistice. We have to admit that it was an armistice that ended one war but opened the path to another. Commemorating it requires us to look beyond the Armistice to the world we inherited, and what we have done with it. Commemorating a war which was, in so many ways, unbelievably cruel and futile, but which we remember and honour for the courage, sacrifice and dignity shown, has been a conflicting experience. The Great War lives in our memories and imaginations like nothing else. However, of necessity, most of the personal memories are long buried.
The past four years have enabled people across the community to reach into the past and their own histories, bringing to life the countless names, diaries, poems, photographs, letters, songs and stories in a way that simply could not have been imagined. It has revived old griefs but it has also, as the Minister said, provoked magnificent new art, new understanding and new heritage. It has enabled us to look beyond the statistics and into the eyes of those who were there.
In his book on the Armistice, Joseph Persico wrote that if all the men who had died in the war were to march four abreast, the column would stretch 386 miles from Paris, half way through Switzerland, and it would have taken from 9 am on Monday to 4 pm on Saturday to pass. There would have been scientists marching past in that ghostly column; men such as Henry Moseley, who reinvented the periodic table, and who was probably the most brilliant scientist of his generation. This was indeed a scientists’ war. There were poets of every nation: Alfred Lichtenstein, the German poet; Hedd Wyn, the Welsh poet; Apollinaire, the French poet; Edward Thomas and Wilfred Owen, our own poets, who we grew up with. There were composers such as George Butterworth. We can only imagine the sort of world that they would have created if they had lived.
The far greater number were those who, in Kipling’s words, were known only to God. Among them were the 360 ordinary men from Lewes in Sussex—foundry workers, farm labourers, clerks and teachers—who also died and who stand for the ordinary. Whereas we know the legacy of the writers, artists, philosophers and scientists, because we live with that every day, we have not known much about those men and what they might have done—until now. The 360 men of Lewes were brought back to life in a truly remarkable event last Armistice Day by Lewes Remembers, a small group of local people, including our historic bonfire societies, who meticulously researched each of the men and their families. They knew where they lived and what they did; in some cases, they knew what they were like. On the evening of Armistice Day last year 360 men, matched in age with those who had died and leaving wherever possible from the homes that they had left, marched silently with blazing torches through the streets to converge on our war memorial. As each name was read out, one man stepped forward and extinguished his torch. It was done with immense dignity and it was unforgettable.
All over the country during the past four years, over 2,000 such projects have been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund—I declare an interest as deputy secretary of its board—with £97 million contributed by lottery players who made this national conversation possible. We know now for the first time about the sports clubs, the church groups and scout groups that lost their young men; about the men who were simply fading names on a war memorial; about the lives of children in care, the contributions of women and the role of ethnic and faith communities, such as the Sikhs. We know that history has been expressed in every form of art and music, in brilliant new work commissioned as 14-18 NOW projects, as the Minister said, and in the way that old and new have joined hands across history to rediscover what they have in common.
The past four years have made possible no less than a new way of doing history: a way of uncovering the human spirit and the personal truths about that awful war and its aftermath that would have lain buried for ever. That is one form of legacy for which we are richer in every way but I am hopeful, as I think the Minister is, that this will not be the end. The Armistice commemorations this week give us the chance to take the next step: to build on what we know we can find out to understand and uncover more of what was involved after the war in the making and keeping—and the losing—of peace, and apply those lessons.
The aspirations for a peace which, as the Treaty of Versailles put it, would be “firm, just and durable” were not realised. In its first article it created a League of Nations built on international co-operation, peace and security but it failed to outlaw war. It took another war before it could be rebuilt on firmer foundations.
Wales has a particular story to tell. I hope that your Lordships will indulge me because it is not well known. In many ways, it is the story of one man: Lord Davies of Llandinam, soldier, philanthropist and politician, whose experience in the trenches made him determined to pursue in all the ways he could the idea of a stable international order and, in particular, a League of Nations. He founded the Temple of Peace in Cardiff to house the welsh council of the League of Nations. He founded the first ever department of international politics, in Aberystwyth in 1919,
“for the study of those related problems of law and politics, of ethics and economics, which are raised by the prospect of a League of Nations and for the truer understanding of civilisation other than our own”.
I declare another interest as a graduate of that department, which has been at the cutting edge of thought leadership over a century and continues, in its centenary year, to ask the difficult questions.
One of our HLF flagship projects in Wales has been about peace. Wales for Peace is uncovering the stories of how, in 100 years, people from Wales have contributed themselves to the search for peace—not just by digitising the names in memory of all those who died but by looking for the peacebuilders and writing about them as well. They are great stories, not least of the teachers of Wales who invented the first peace and global education curriculum, the principles of which were integrated into the founding of UNESCO. These stories need to be better known, because they have in their own legacy the instinctive desire that young people have to grow up in a just and peaceful world. Understanding what prevents and makes an end to conflict should be a far more explicit part of our national curriculum. That indeed could be a great legacy.
In that context, I am bound to say that it is hardly credible that we in the UK now stand on the brink of detaching ourselves from the one European institution formed deliberately to maintain peace, based on shared laws and values. In the current state of our post-truth, post-law, post-rational world, we must listen to what the past tells us. We are knee-deep in explanations for what caused the Great War among which, as Margaret MacMillan has said, is the lack of conviction that there were better alternatives. To that I would add rampant nationalism.
It is almost commonplace to say that in 1914 the nations did indeed sleepwalk into that living nightmare, and that perhaps is the greatest lesson we can learn. Thanks to President Macron there will be a new opportunity this week to restate our faith and invest in international law and institutions, through his concept of the Paris Peace Forum, which will offer the opportunity to reflect on world governance while we commemorate the end of World War I and recognise our collective responsibility:
“Let us never be sleepwalkers in our world”.
Can the Minister give me an assurance today that our Government will be a full and enthusiastic participant in this initiative, as part of the legacy of the Armistice itself?
On 1 March 1918, a 50 year-old master mariner named John Jones died at sea while serving as first mate on HMS “Penvearn”. A member of the Royal Naval Reserve, he had sailed the Atlantic convoy right through the First World War. I know about John Jones because he was my great-grandfather, but what little I knew as I was growing I learned from my grandmother. He had gone to sea as boy, progressed quickly through the ranks and ultimately went down with his ship. I know a lot more about him now. He did indeed go to sea as a boy; his first voyage was on a ship named the “Quarryman”. He became a second mate at age 24 and married the following year. He achieved his master’s certificate at the age of 35 and a lot more besides. And I know that, on 1 March 1918, his ship was torpedoed by U-boat “105”, 15 miles north-west of South Stack head, Holyhead.
At the same time, a few hundred miles away in Bradford, William Thomas Riley had been demobbed after being injured in the trenches. What I knew about this great-grandfather I learned from my father because, unlike John Jones, William Riley lived to a ripe old age—long enough to send a card noting and congratulating the birth of his first great-grandchild Rosalind, which I still have. I knew only that he had gone to war, came back and then never spoke of what had happened to him. I also knew that, for the rest of his life, his behaviour could be erratic. My father said, in characteristic understated Yorkshire style, “He was a rum lad, my grandad”.
I found out many years after my father’s death that Private William Thomas Riley was a labourer. He was five feet five, had hazel eyes and brown hair, and weighed 130 pounds, so small and probably under- nourished, like so many working-class men of that generation. He enlisted on 2 September 1914, no doubt inspired by Kitchener’s call five days earlier for a battalion of pals to fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain.
I learned that on 30 December 1914 he was buried in a trench collapse, when he was somewhere near Armentières. After being rescued, his physical injuries were treated, but he was never again whole. Of course, we would now recognise that this rum lad had in fact spent the rest of his life suffering from post-traumatic stress, as did so many of that generation. The men who left Bradford, accompanied by marching bands and cheered on by tens of thousands of people, came quietly home to families grieving for the men who they once knew.
I wanted to use today’s debate to celebrate and honour brave men such as John Jones and William Thomas Riley, but also to recognise and celebrate the individuals and organisations, many of them voluntary, which since then have painstakingly preserved, interpreted and made accessible so much of the public record. They have enabled many thousands of people like me to learn more than they could ever have believed possible about their ancestors. Their contribution is immense because in the facts they reveal and the stories they tell they make sure that collective and individual histories are preserved and remain to be celebrated and learned from by generations to come.
From Commonwealth War Graves Commission records I learned the names of John Jones’s parents, taking my research back a generation. I learned that his name, along with the 21 other crew members who lost their lives that day, is inscribed on the Tower Hill Memorial, which commemorates more than 50,000 merchant seamen who died in two world wars.
Much of the Navy and Army history upon which I drew came from the National Archives, for which I am a non-executive board member. Its professionalism and skill in keeping a public record of more than 1,000 years safe and accessible is world-leading. Nowadays, access to records is no longer limited to those who can get to Kew. It is open to all online through a system called Discovery, on which 32 million records—9 million of them downloadable—are available. Many millions more are available through the National Archives partnership with commercial organisations such as Ancestry and Find My Past. To commemorate this anniversary, the National Archives will be displaying the treaty of Versailles and the Armistice agreement in the Keeper’s Gallery.
The UK National Maritime Museum, the British Newspaper Archive and the Imperial War Museum all provide wonderfully rich seams of information, as do the archives of companies such as Tate & Lyle and charities such as Barnardo’s. Local authority archives are a wonderful source of information which should be treasured. I am very nervous that the poor state of local authority finances will endanger their integrity and the access that local public record offices offer. Those of us with roots in west Yorkshire are fortunate that the archive service there is excellent and was at the forefront of digitisation. This must be preserved.
There are many small voluntary groups which work in highly specialist areas, such as the Welsh Mariners Index and the Maritime Archaeology Trust, both of which helped my research. There are also many local organisations, researchers and writers who celebrate the rich history of their neighbourhoods. We heard that so powerfully from the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, when she described what happened in Lewes. David Raw’s immaculately researched book Bradford Pals is such a powerful evocation of my great-grandfather’s experience. David Raw reminds us that of the first 100 pals to enlist, 39 were killed and 19, like my great-grandfather, were sufficiently seriously wounded to be permanently discharged. There is also the work of local war memorial trusts, which care for the monuments themselves but also transcribe them and research the people on them.
This is a powerful coming together of government, private sector and civil society activity which is transforming the discipline of local and family history. They have all contributed so much to this four-year celebration. They have helped us to understand and know these brave forebears of ours, these ordinary people who did extraordinary things, and in knowing them better, we can honour them more.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Government’s First World War centenary advisory committee. Let me start by recording that, as a member of that committee, I have been privileged to see at first hand the outstanding work that has been done by so many people and organisations over the past few years to ensure that this nation has commemorated appropriately the enormous sacrifices that were made on such a horrific scale between 1914 and 1918.
If the British military of today were to endure casualties equivalent to the same percentage of the UK population that was lost in the First World War, the dead would number more than 1 million. That, of course, is more than five times the present total size of our Armed Forces. These are numbers which are very difficult for people to comprehend now.
The various centenary commemorations, however, have been very successful in bringing home to those growing up in the 21st century the nature of the conflict and the impact that it had on a whole generation in this country. That was of course one of the main aims of the commemorative process and in this, in my view, it has succeeded admirably. The major battles have been acknowledged and analysed, the impact on the country and its population have been examined closely and the effects of the war on local communities and organisations have been highlighted in all sorts of revealing ways. This is very much to be welcomed, and I congratulate all those in schools, museums and veterans’ organisations who have worked so hard to bring these things out of the shadows of history and into the light of contemporary thinking.
However, I have a reservation. Some six years ago, during our first discussions about the centenary, I made the point that while we had to mark the key milestones of the war, and while of course we had to remember and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many, there was a larger and, in some ways, even more important perspective. If the centenary was to be more than a passing acknowledgment of a dreadful period in our history, if it was to be of lasting benefit to coming generations, then it would be crucial to focus not just on the courses of the war but on its causes and its consequences.
Happily, in the months leading up to August 2014, there was a great deal of debate in the written and broadcast media and within our schools over the events, misadventures and miscalculations that plunged the world into such a catastrophe. We have now, though, been through over four years of commemorative events. They have been superbly arranged and movingly executed, and even in the most difficult of circumstances they have struck the appropriate tone. But four years is a long time, and there is a sense that the centenary of the Armistice is a good point at which to bring the process to a close. That would be a serious mistake.
After a great many missteps, years of stalemate on a number of fronts and bloodletting on an unimaginable scale, in November 1918 the allies finally achieved a decisive operational victory. Over the following few years, however, their diplomatic and political failures turned this into a strategic defeat of the first order, a defeat that would set us on the path to the Second World War and to even greater carnage. The hubris of victory, the increasing alienation of Germany, the creation of the “stab in the back” myth, the failure of the United States to engage properly in the global commons, the San Remo agreements on the division of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, which we see unravelling before our eyes today—all these things, and others, led us eventually to a much darker abyss than the one from which we emerged in November 1918.
There is, of course, disagreement about the relative importance of these factors: about whether Germany was really left in such a parlous position, about the extent to which irresponsible governance of the international financial scene played a part, and about the debilitating political impact of the war on western democracies. Good. These are just the sort of debates and discussions that we should be having, because it is an inescapable fact that little more than 20 years after the “war to end all wars” we endured an unprecedented global cataclysm. We should be taking this opportunity to ask why. We should be discussing as a society the rise of selfish nationalism, the failure of international mechanisms and the unwillingness to confront challenges to international law and order. Most importantly, we should be asking our schools to explore these issues with their students and to set them in the context of our world today.
This week, as part of the Armistice centenary events, torches have been lit at the Tower of London. These torches represent the rekindling of hope following the devastation of the war, but after 1918 the flames of hope flickered only fitfully before finally guttering to extinction in the 1930s. They failed in their promise because people forgot that peace is a fragile thing and that it can be sustained only through constant effort. This lesson was learned in 1945, when the victorious allies put in place, and committed to, institutions and processes to nurture the global commons. When the peace of Europe was again threatened, by the division that split former comrades in arms between East and West, the response was one of unified and determined purpose exemplified by NATO, not one of fragmentation and rancour.
Today the institutions that have served us so well for more than 70 years are under threat. They are, of course, imperfect and in some cases, no doubt, they are in need of renewal, but they should not therefore be cast aside as so much obsolete bureaucracy. If the years immediately following the Armistice teach us anything, it is that the rejection of collective security in the pursuit of an illusory idea of self-interest puts us all at risk, and that a failure to unite, with all the messy compromises that this entails, leaves us exposed and vulnerable to the dangers of an uncertain world.
The world of 2018 is not the same as the one of 1918. We cannot draw direct parallels between the two eras. However, as Mark Twain reminded us, while history never repeats itself, it does sometimes rhyme. I have an uncomfortable sense that we are hearing such a rhyme now. Those who sacrificed so much in the First World War were let down by those who sought to make the peace. If we can use their example to help us to do better, then that sacrifice will not have been wholly in vain. That is why the centenary of the Armistice should not be an end, but a new beginning of reflection, debate, and learning.
My Lords, it is hard to imagine the mood of the country 100 years ago, when the hellish cacophony of gunfire gradually ceased on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, to be replaced by an almost equally deafening silence—not a peaceful silence, but the suffocating, overwhelming sense of emptiness that comes with grief. Over 6 million men in Britain served during the war and around 725,000 never returned. Over the course of the conflict, 1.75 million men suffered an injury of some kind; half this number would be left permanently disabled, and all would be psychologically scarred for life. Men of all ages had signed up believing that it was their duty and that there was a job to be done. They trusted that they would have a job to come home to. When this did not happen, the most vulnerable just slipped into poverty and destitution. The rank and file who had fought with their backs to the wall believing in the justice of their cause had, in many cases, lost everything including their dignity and self-respect. The Government of the day were totally unprepared for the situation, resulting in delays of pension payments to widows and the disabled. Compared with other countries, including Germany, we were behind the curve, and there were lessons to be learned in treating visible and invisible wounds.
My grandfather, Douglas Haig, felt an enormous burden of responsibility towards the men who had served under him as Commander-in-Chief. Accordingly, he addressed the needs of the veterans and their families with the same dogged determination he had demonstrated in helping defeat the enemy. He recognised that men needed employment more than charity and, though naturally modest and reserved, he became very vocal on their behalf, using his influence, where he could, to advance their welfare and interests. The British Legion, of which he became the first president, came into being in 1921 because of his insistence on having a single organisation uniting the four national organisations of ex-servicemen that had established themselves immediately after the end of the war.
My grandmother set up the Lady Haig Poppy Factory in Edinburgh in 1926, along similar lines to the Poppy Factory in Richmond, which had been established four years before. She started it with just three helpers, red paper and scissors. Within 10 years, the factory was employing nearly 100 severely disabled people. At the same time, she was behind a housing project in Richmond which by 1930 had provided 330 veterans with homes. She regularly accompanied widows and orphans on battlefield visits.
The red poppy, which had carpeted Picardy in the summer months of 1919, carried such significance for the families of those whose blood had been spilled on those foreign fields that a facsimile of it soon became a uniting emblem of remembrance and hope in the midst of the encircling, autumnal gloom. The idea of a Poppy Appeal, which raised over £100,000 in its first year, 1921, was formulated around the dining room table at my grandmother’s family home in Cornwall, following an approach to her by Madame Guérin, who had introduced a commemorative flower in the United States and Canada.
There is no doubt that the First World War was a catalyst for enormous change—social, political and moral, and in the areas of science and medicine, warfare and technology. One could even say that the 20th century truly began in 1914. With the birth of total war came the realisation that conflicts could be global and devastating in scope. For this reason, many believed, somewhat optimistically, that the Great War was the “war to end all wars”. But humankind has an extraordinary capacity to undermine such hopes. The fissures and tensions created by the hostilities—political, military and cultural—were to cast a long shadow and blight following generations.
A memorable day for me in this Armistice centenary year was when I had the honour of meeting Colonel Eric Bécourt-Foch, great-grandson of Marshal Foch, at the laying of wreaths to commemorate the Marshal’s appointment as Supreme Allied Commander in March 1918. I congratulate the Minister’s department on the efficient way that it organised this historic event. It was hugely appreciated by the French present for the ceremony. In a private conversation after the service, a senior representative of the French armed forces stressed to me the importance of continued co-operation in the military field between our two countries, and, in fact, throughout Europe. I agreed with him 100%: we are leaving the EU, not Europe, irrespective of Brexit.
Let us not forget how fragile the situation was in 1945, when a shattered Europe once again faced an uncertain future, this time with a very threatening neighbour on its doorstep. Seventy years’ worth of careful rebuilding of alliances and trust should not be dismissed lightly. In the spring of 1918, in the wake of Operation Michael, when our depleted and exhausted Army faced the fiercest onslaught by fresh German troops, the outcome of the war was balanced on a knife edge. It was the co-operation between the British Commander-in-Chief and the Supreme Allied Commander that reversed our fortunes. Their unity of purpose, founded on mutual respect and underpinned by strong leadership, resulted in a highly successful campaign, involving Britain and its dominions, other European countries and America, which delivered victory in 1918.
When we stand to observe the two-minute silence on Sunday, we will remember the families of the men and women who never came back, whose sacrifice in the Great War secured peace and justice, freedom and democracy, as well as those who finally laid down their arms, after four years of relentless struggle.
My Lords, 100 years after the Armistice was signed, it is an interesting commentary on the diversity of this Chamber as well as on the unanimity in what I am sure we will say in the coming few hours that I, the grandson of a south Wales miner, should be following the grandson of Lord Haig.
I want to reflect on the impact of the sacrifice in the First World War on the eastern valley of Gwent, which used to be Monmouthshire. It is a valley that includes Cwmbran, Pontypool and Blaenavon and which was, 100 years ago, made up almost wholly of men who worked in the collieries and in the steelworks. Over the last four years, a very good friend of mine who had been a local councillor—Stuart Cameron—has been compiling month by month a register of those who perished in the war. That has come an end, and we now know that, over those four years of the war, in a valley whose population was much less than it is now, 1,300 men perished. A whole generation of young men in that valley was decimated. It is ironic that 1918 was the highest year for casualties: some 317 men died in that last year of the war.
Almost every single family was affected by that war, more than by any other conflict before that. That was, of course, because of conscription. Many men had to go to war because of national service, and others went because they volunteered. From those 1,300 men to whom I referred, 37 families lost two sons and five families lost three sons. The family of Henry and Elizabeth Williams of Pontnewydd had seven sons who fought in that war and three were killed. Of those seven sons, one was a steelworker and six worked underground.
Most of them joined up with the 2nd Battalion The Monmouthshire Regiment and the South Wales Borderers, but many others as well. Some 65 of those who died were in the Royal Navy, despite the fact that the south Wales valleys were not naval areas. That included a relative of mine who was killed in the Battle of Jutland. Six served in the very young Royal Air Force. This coming week, the Royal Welsh Regimental Association of Torfaen, of which I am president, will play a significant role locally and beyond that. The Cwmbran and District Ex-Servicemen’s Association has been chosen to represent south Wales, among others, at Ypres, in the coming celebration and commemoration there.
Four women from my valley died in the First World War. One was in the RAF and the other three were nurses. The Minister touched on what happened afterwards: the life of women changed dramatically. In 1918, they received the vote, although my grandmother—because of her class—had to wait another 10 years before she was able to vote. It has often struck me that I actually knew my grandmother; she did not really have the opportunity to cast that vote until she was in her 50s. More than 100 senior and significant medals were won by the men of Torfaen and I pay tribute to them.
It is quite interesting that the war began with enormous enthusiasm and euphoria. The Revered Williams was the rector of the parish of Panteg in the eastern valley. Through his sermons and his speeches, he encouraged the men of the valley to sign up. It is said that by 1918, he was a broken man because of the shock of the fates of so many young people whom he had urged to sign up to fight in that war.
The men of the eastern valley were commemorated 100 years ago this weekend. The church bells rang in our valley churches, as they will in this great city, but the hooters of the factories and the steelworks, and the whistles of the locomotive collieries, also celebrated the end of that war. It is significant that during this debate we will hear many stories of ordinary men, and sometimes women, who lost their lives in the conflict.
The services held 100 years ago this week, and those to be held this week, are not just for those who died but for those who came back as well: those who were injured, psychologically and physically, and indeed for all the men, women and children who remained at home. Tragically, of course, two decades later it all happened again. The significance of this week should be that when we look back at history, as we must, we learn those lessons. We did not learn them in 1938-39 in quite the same way as perhaps we can today, but we can still remember those men, and sometimes women, whose courage inspires us and whose sacrifice is still undoubted.
My Lords, this debate is quite rightly focused on the 11 November Armistice, which silenced the guns on the Western Front of the “Great War for Civilisation”, as it is called on the reverse of the war medal. But we should not forget that that was not the only front. Three other armistices were signed in the preceding weeks of 1918, with Bulgaria on 30 September, Austria-Hungary on 3 November, and the Ottoman Empire on 30 October, ending hostilities on the Turkish front the following day.
My father was a wartime soldier in the Royal Artillery in the First World War, first in France and Belgium, until he was wounded at Passchendaele, and after a hospital in France and convalescence in England he was sent to join the so-called Egyptian Expeditionary Force in Palestine under General Allenby. He therefore served on both the Western and Turkish fronts.
In 1914, we British had underestimated the Turkish forces, but we had learned our lesson the hard way. Our naval attempt to force the Dardanelles was thwarted, with great loss. The increasingly desperate attempt over months to advance at Gallipoli was defeated, also with terrible loss of life. The first advance in Mesopotamia led to a humiliating surrender at Kut. Later we recovered the ground, but we did not get all that much further in Mesopotamia.
In trying to advance up the coast of Palestine from Egypt we lost the first two battles of Gaza, right at the start. By then, 1917, we certainly did not underestimate the quality or fighting spirit of the Turkish army, nor the skill and leadership of its commanders, including Mustafa Kemal, later known as Atatürk—the founder of secular Turkey—and German generals such as von Sanders.
General Allenby’s army was skilfully led and, in a war of manoeuvre and surprise, it won the Third Battle of Gaza, and then went on to capture Jerusalem in December 1917. Once his army had been reinforced with Indian and Empire troops to replace those withdrawn for the Western Front, he pressed on again and won the Battle of Megiddo in the following year.
The Plain of Jezreel had seen two great battles before in history. In 609 BC, the Bible tells us that the Egyptians won a major battle at Megiddo in their war with the Babylonians. Almost a millennium before that, the hieroglyphs at Luxor tell us that in the first Battle of Megiddo, in around 1457 BC, the Egyptians crushed the Canaanite forces on much the same ground in an epic battle. It is through these great ancient battles that Har Megiddo is known to us as Armageddon. In 1918, Allenby’s crushing victory at Megiddo enabled him to capture Damascus, then Beirut and Aleppo; so, with our armies on the edge of Turkey itself, it led to the Armistice of 31 October. It also led to the ennoblement of Viscount Allenby of Megiddo. Many of us remember Michael, the third Viscount, who made such a valuable contribution to the Cross Benches.
The slaughter on the Turkish front was not perhaps on the same industrial scale as that on the Western Front, but it was huge. Many of the troops involved came from Britain’s loyal Empire, in particular from the wider India—as it was then defined—and from Australia and New Zealand. We should not forget this theatre of the Great War. It led to the long-predicted end of the Ottoman Empire. My father’s letters home at the time reflect his relief at having survived the war—and of course I share that sentiment.
The armistices, including that on the Western Front, were phrased as temporary truces, which fortunately were extended. The final tragedy of the Great War was the peace conference; the powerful speech just now of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, explains why. The emotions and political pressures involved were inevitably huge. Wavell, then an officer on Allenby’s staff but later field marshal, commented at the time:
“After the war to end all wars they seem to have”,
“‘Peace to end Peace’”.
That is how things turned out, both in Europe and in the Middle East. It is a message to us, as the noble and gallant Lord said, that we must not forget.
My Lords, I would like to focus my remarks today on the crucial contribution made by over 3 million Commonwealth soldiers during World War I, almost half of whom came from undivided India, encompassing present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh. My noble friend Lord Lexden led an excellent debate on this topic on 4 June this year, during which he highlighted comments by David Lloyd George, who said of the Commonwealth that,
“had they stayed at home ... the history of the world would have taken a different course”.
The swift arrival of Indian troops on the Western Front in September 1914 was absolutely critical to preventing a German breakthrough. A sepoy named Khudadad Khan was awarded the first of 11 Indian Victoria Crosses after valiantly staying at his machine gun when all his colleagues were killed around him. Without men like him, the war might quickly have been lost. In all, 74,000 Indians serving in multiple continents, from the Somme to the Sahara, never returned home.
Given this remarkable courage and sacrifice, it has been a personal privilege for me to collaborate with the Royal British Legion and with my honourable friend Tom Tugendhat—who I am pleased to see has joined us at the Bar—on a series of activities to highlight this often-forgotten history. As parliamentarians, strongly committed to making “Global Britain” a reality and not just a slogan, our challenge is harnessing this shared history and making it relevant for future generations in both countries.
In doing so, we have sought to build on the pioneering work of other Members of your Lordships’ House, notably the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, who led the commissioning of the Memorial Gates on Constitution Hill and my noble friend Lord Bilimoria, who has consistently championed this cause, given his family’s own distinguished background in the Armed Forces. I would also like to acknowledge my noble friend Lord Sheikh, who led another excellent debate in this Chamber as far back as December 2013, and my noble friend Lord Rana, whose native state of Punjab provided so many heroic Sikh soldiers.
One of the initiatives which I refer to is the specially commissioned poppy made out of khadi, the homespun cotton made famous by Mahatma Gandhi. I am delighted to see so many Members of your Lordships’ House wearing this poppy, and I would like to explain its background and poignant symbolism. During India’s freedom struggle, Gandhi promoted the use of a spinning wheel to make India more self-sufficient and to support rural employment. The resulting hand-woven fabric, or khadi, became synonymous with India’s independence movement.
Although many associate Gandhi with non-violence and vigorously opposing the British Raj, his behaviour during World War I was highly revealing. At the outbreak of war, Gandhi was on a ship from South Africa homeward bound to India, with a scheduled stop in England. On 6 August 1914, he landed in Southampton and almost immediately declared his unconditional support for the war effort, losing no time in calling a meeting of his Indian friends to raise an ambulance unit. Instead of exploiting Britain’s vulnerability, he said,
“it was our duty to win their help by standing by them in their hour of need”.
What was meant to be a brief sojourn in London turned into a four-month stop-over, during which Gandhi personally chaired a committee recruiting members for the Indian field ambulance corps and even took nursing classes himself. When Gandhi eventually returned to India, he was active in enlisting volunteers to the Indian army, including from difficult-to-reach areas, such as his home state of Gujarat. Openly proclaiming himself as the “recruiting agent-in-chief’, he defied criticism from his own friends and colleagues. Although he was always careful to make clear that:
“I personally will not kill or injure anybody, friend or foe”,
Gandhi’s principled and loyal support was crucial at a difficult time in India’s relationship with Britain.
That is the profound significance of the khadi poppy. It is a highly appropriate gesture, not just to recognise the outsized contribution of Indian soldiers, but it also invokes the courageous solidarity of Mahatma Gandhi. In keeping with that spirit, the design is identical in almost every respect, including its colour, to the traditional poppy, apart from the hugely symbolic twist of using khadi. It does not seek to single out just one group but remembers everyone: it is a unifying symbol for us all.
I hope that it also sends a powerful signal to Asians growing up in Britain and inspires the next generation to understand their own identity. They should know that their parents and grandparents did not just come here as immigrants. Our ancestors fought for this country and for freedom and democracy, even though they lived in a colony at the time. We therefore have as great a stake here as anyone else. Indeed, everyone from the Commonwealth should be proud of the role which their forebears played in shaping the destiny of the world a century ago.
The scandalous treatment of the Windrush generation shows what can happen when history is forgotten. It demonstrates the value of having an honest conversation about Britain’s colonial legacy and how this can be a cathartic process. This is particularly important given that our country is now home to an estimated 6 million people from Commonwealth countries—around one in 10 of our population. The centenary of the war has provided a welcome opportunity for having this conversation. Next year’s centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, on 13 April 2019, will provide another such opportunity.
Just as the poppy symbolises remembrance in Britain, in India it is the marigold, which is worn on Armed Force Flag Day, held on 7 December every year. The flower’s saffron yellow colour is associated by many with self-sacrifice. The Indian armed forces have undertaken an ambitious project to raise their own awareness about India’s role during the First World War. Crucially, they have unearthed contemporary accounts by Indian soldiers, which will change how future histories are written. These accounts confirm what might seem surprising: that Indians who volunteered, just like their British counterparts, believed profoundly that their cause was just. It confirms that upholding a sense of duty is a trait which runs deep in both countries, typified by the festival of Diwali which, by coincidence, falls this year in the same week as remembrance.
This reminder of the values which bind Britain and India together is timely, since it comes at a moment when threats to freedom and the world order confront both countries. So, on Remembrance Sunday, when the Member for Tonbridge and Malling lays a wreath in Delhi and a British Indian Peer pays his respects in Westminster Abbey, the wheel of history will have come full circle. On Saturday, at the Royal Albert Hall, Her Majesty the Queen will hear a reading of the famous poem “The Gift of India” written by Sarojini Naidu, Mahatma Gandhi’s friend, in which she demanded that we:
“Remember the blood of my martyred sons”.
On this important anniversary, we will. But we will go a step further, by committing to build a better world for the next generation.
My Lords, Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday are about remembering all those—both men and women—who fought and died during the wars. It is often a very private remembrance for us to remember those in our own families who fought in the wars, some of whom died. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, talked about research into our family histories. I have recently completed our family tree and I got the Cathcarts back, father and son, to the Normans. The first few were knights before they were created Barons in about 1400. In 1513, all the Cathcart brothers were annihilated—killed at the Battle of Flodden, along with their King, James IV of Scotland. Luckily, the eldest brother already had a baby son, otherwise I would not be standing here today. Thank goodness they had no family planning in those days.
My father was the seventh general in the direct line of Cathcarts, with three other generals in branches of the tree, making a total of 10 generals in all. There were also four ambassadors in the direct line, and one or two governors-general. After I completed the family tree, I thought to myself: “Beat that if you can”. Buoyed up by my success in completing that family tree, I am now in the process of doing my mother’s. It is a work in progress, but I have so far identified 11 generals, one ambassador and two admirals, one of whom was awarded the VC. So, in my mind, her family definitely did beat that. I was in the Army for a few years, but I never reached their dizzy heights. With hindsight, I must have been a bitter disappointment to both families; I broke the mould.
Seven of my grandparents’ generation fought in the First World War; three of my great-uncles were killed. This is not a dissimilar experience from that of millions of other families. During the Second World War, my father and uncle both joined up and happily survived. Strangely, I never heard either of them talk about their experiences during the war; I learned more about their war after they died. One can understand why many of that generation wanted to draw a line under their painful experiences and just move on.
That is not quite true. My father mentioned just two incidents. The first was when we were talking about a friend of mine. My father said:
“Of course, he was my godson. It was such a pity that his father, Nigel, never knew that he had a son”.
When I pressed him to explain, he said that his tank battalion was advancing on the enemy in Normandy and when he looked to his right, he saw Nigel’s tank being blown up and on fire. He then saw Nigel, his great friend, escaping through the turret with his clothes on fire. He died before he hit the ground. Millions of servicemen must have had similar experiences.
The second occasion was when I was a young officer. My father insisted on taking me to Belsen concentration camp. While there, he said that he and other officers and men were made to visit the camp the day after it was liberated, in order to witness first-hand the horrendous things that had taken place there. He said that the horrors of what they saw that day stuck with him as if it were yesterday.
War is a horrific business, and all of us living today have much for which to thank those who fought and died, men and women, so that we can live with the freedoms, peace and democracy that we so cherish—and perhaps, to some extent, take for granted. Long may we remember them.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Andrews has said that the poets got it right, and didn’t they just:
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place”.
Later in John McCrae’s poem he writes:
“If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields”.
I hope that we have not broken faith as we acknowledge the centenary of the Armistice in 1918. We have a particular responsibility, because the century passes on our watch and we need to tell the story forward, louder than ever, to keep faith with those who gave their lives 100 years ago.
Nine young men went from Balscote, my village in Oxfordshire: John L Compton, Sydney Cox, Henry Coles, Thomas Cook, Arthur WM Gardner, Eric Hitchcox, Herbert Hitchcox, Cyril Kempson and Christopher Skuse. So many young men, from cities, towns and villages all over this country, volunteered, were later conscripted, and were often devoured by the war. As Wilfred Owen said:
“What candles may be held to speed them all?”
My own great-uncles from the west of Ireland were just some of the 200,000 Irish who fought alongside allied forces—it was indeed a long way to Tipperary. As the noble Lord, Lord Gadhia, said, young men in their millions came from the Empire, including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs from pre-partition India who fought at Neuve Chapelle, breaking through the German defence for the first time, and at Ypres, Givenchy, Loos, Festubert, and of course the Somme.
They came from Africa—95,000 of the East African Carrier Corps gave their lives—South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Newfoundland and the Caribbean. The Jewish Zion Mule Corps and the Chinese Labour Corps, which numbered 100,000, served alongside the British Expeditionary Force. With none of them do we break faith.
Nearer to home, they came from across Europe —a Europe that we are moving away from, I fear. In a recent visit to Plymouth, the city in which I grew up, I realised on rereading the names of the fallen on the magnificent naval war memorial there that on one of our ships, the entire ship’s band, all 26 of them, had Italian names—names such as Baldacchino, Carmando, Cavallazzi and Consiglio. Two had the same name, Portoghese. Perhaps they were brothers or cousins or even father and son. Everyone who served and died in this war has a right to be remembered and their story told.
But the story, as many noble Lords have said, is incomplete if we do not honour the part played by women; the redoubtable women who against all odds gave service at the front in the field hospitals and who joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps as mechanics, cooks, drivers and clerks. In total, more than 100,000 women joined Britain’s Armed Forces during the war, and Louise Jordan’s current one-woman show, “No Petticoats Here”, which is amazing, tells us about these unsung heroines.
While women had worked outside the home before 1914, they now really took up the heavy lifting in what had been men-only work in the ammunition factories where conditions were often harsh, such as the Birmingham Small Arms Company factory in my former European Parliament constituency. They worked in transport and in the police. In 1916, Evelyn Miles became the first woman to join the police in Birmingham. As Evelyn Underhill wrote in her poem “Non-combatants”:
“Never of us be said,
We had no war to wage”.
The Government’s programme of centenary commemorations has been fitting, creative and respectful in its offer and its delivery and especially in its work directly with young people, and I heartily congratulate the Government. The London-based youth orchestra, Musiko Musika, of which I am proud to be a patron, has benefited from the Government’s guidance in its work with young people from Chile. Why Chile? The British and Chilean youngsters are remembering the 1914 naval battle of Coronel off that coast.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission continues its outstanding work in keeping faith with those who died and in constantly reworking and reimagining the story for future generations. Let us determine that, 100 years from now, our grandchildren’s grandchildren will still keep faith with those who sleep in Flanders fields.
My Lords, I remember discussing Brexit at Harvard Business School with one of the great professors there, an authority on negotiation in the world today. He said that he had been reading a book about the build-up to the First World War, and that it was like watching a train crash in slow motion.
The poppy that we wear is a bond between the living and the dead. As the noble Lord, Lord Gadhia, said in his excellent speech, he worked with the Royal British Legion to specially commission the khadi poppy that I am wearing with pride. It is made of handwoven cotton made famous by Mahatma Gandhi. The poppy emphasises our gratitude for the 1.5 million volunteers—the British legion says that it is to say thank you to them—who served from every corner of the then undivided India; they were not conscripts. It was the largest British Empire armed force besides the British Army itself. There were 13,000 medals for gallantry, including 11 awards of the Victoria Cross. The British legion says that together we can ensure that:
“Remembrance is understood and available to all, and handed to the next generation”.
Yet although the noble Lord said that a poem is going to be read out on 10 November, I do not know if, at this huge event at the Royal Albert Hall which will be watched by millions around the world, the British legion will specifically acknowledge the contribution of the 1.5 million Indians. If it does not, it will be a missed opportunity. The Minister said that a great deal of the commemoration of World War I has been about youth. Well, there is no better time for us to reach out across the country, and especially to our youth and our schoolchildren, to tell them about the amazing service and sacrifice, not just from the Commonwealth, but in particular from India.
Today the British Asians make up the largest ethnic-minority community in the UK. This is an opportunity for the whole nation to recognise, appreciate and thank these individuals. That would strengthen the wonderful multicultural, pluralist, tolerant nation which Britain has become—a Britain that celebrates its diversity. This ethnic-minority contribution is the greatest strength of this tiny country, no longer with the empire it had during the First World War but still the fifth-largest economy in the world.
One of my earliest childhood memories was walking into our Zoroastrian Parsi fire temple in Hyderabad and seeing a portrait of an army officer. I have since realised that officer was Captain Firoz Bapuji Chinoy, who served in the British Army Medical Corps during World War I and died in Iran in 1918. I was sent the details of another Parsi medical officer, Captain Hiraji Cursetji, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his bravery during the final stages of the campaign in Mesopotamia, now Iraq. This was a theatre of war in which the Indian Army played a vital role. His citation states:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at Mushaq, 26th-27th October and at Sharquat, 29th October. Throughout the operations he displayed the greatest zeal and disregard for danger while tending the wounded under heavy fire, working unceasingly for forty-eight hours. He has previously rendered excellent service, and once was severely wounded”.
This captain retired as Major-General Sir Hiraji Cursetji of the Indian Medical Service. Yet do we realise that, except for the medical officers, the 1.5 million Indians who served in the First World War were not allowed to become officers; and that it was only after the First World War that the British allowed, from 1922 to 1932, eight Indians per course at Sandhurst to become officers? They were called King’s commissioned officers and my grandfather, Brigadier Noshire Bilimoria, was one of them. My father, the late Lieutenant-General Bilimoria, was commissioned into the Indian Military Academy and into the 2/5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force). He ended up becoming colonel of his regiment, president of the Gorkha Brigade and commander-in-chief of the central army in India.
The regiments of the Gurkhas in India today have six battalions each, yet sadly we have only 3,000 Gurkhas today. Today, the British Army cannot even fill Wembley Stadium. The Indian Army numbers 1.2 million people and another 1 million reserves. Today it was announced that we need to recruit, from the Commonwealth, citizens who have not even lived in the UK because of a shortage of 3,000 per year into the British Army. Look at just one battalion, the 1/5 Royal Gorkha Rifles, which served in the Suez Canal zone at Gallipoli. In that campaign, of 410,000 British Empire troops, 213,980 were casualties. That was the scale of this war. The 1/5 also fought in Mesopotamia, where my father’s battalion, the 2/5, also fought. The casualties from this one battalion, the 1/5, in the First World War numbered: killed or died of wounds, 221; wounded, 748; missing, four; died of disease, 40. More Indians fought for the British between 1914 and 1918 than the combined total for Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. Some 74,000 Indian soldiers were killed on the battlefields of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, but the part they played in the war has largely been whitewashed from history. On top of this, there were 16,000 West Indians and 18,000 troops from Africa.
The noble Lord, Lord Gadhia, mentioned the Memorial Gates, which Her Majesty the Queen officially inaugurated on 6 November 2002. The driving force behind them, my noble friend Lady Flather, is to this day the life president. It is a living memorial to honour the,
“five million men and women from the Indian sub-continent, Africa and the Caribbean who volunteered to serve with the Armed Forces of the Crown during the First and Second World Wars”.
They also celebrate:
“The contribution that these men and women and their descendants, members of the Commonwealth family, continue to make to the rich diversity of British society”.
That message needs to go out. This is the opportunity. As the noble Lord, Lord Gadhia, said, even Mahatma Gandhi, who was totally for non-violence, took part in the First World War by founding an ambulance unit, the Indian Ambulance Corps.
We are celebrating the centenary of the RAF: it started during the First World War.
We must not forget that we now have the Armed Forces covenant, introduced in 2011. A moral obligation exists between the nation, the Government and the Armed Forces in return for the sacrifices they make. This is now enshrined in law. In particular, our veterans should suffer no disadvantage and should be given special consideration. For six years I was proud to be a commissioner of the Chelsea Pensioners at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Two decades after World War I we had World War II—two decades later we had nuclear war. Peace in Europe has existed thanks to the European Union, not just NATO. It has existed because we are still a strong defence power, not just a soft power. It has existed because of NATO and because we need to maintain the strength of our defence—not spending just 2% of GDP but 3%, I believe. Our youth needs to learn about the 1.5 million troops from India, and to remember.
In a statement to the House of Commons on 11 November 1918 the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, set out the terms of Armistice and said:
“Thus at 11 o’clock this morning came to the end the cruellest and most terrible war that has ever scourged mankind. I hope we may say that thus, this fateful morning, came to an end all wars”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/11/1918; col. 2463.]
Sadly not, but as Ben Okri, the Booker prize-winning author says on the Memorial Gates:
“Our future is greater than our past”.
My Lords, at this time of year my mind begins to focus on the fast-approaching commemoration of the Armistice at the end of the First World War, a war which, as we have heard several times this afternoon, was supposed to end all wars. Sadly, that was never going to happen.
There is so much that could be said on this subject, but today I want to address the treatment of mental health issues. On 11 November 1918, there must have been much celebration in the knowledge that the daily carnage would cease. There was very little reporting of the shocking numbers who returned home broken physically, while others had mental health issues. These problems were not even recognised. It must have been very difficult for families welcoming their men back home, after four long years fighting for their King and country, and then returning as changed people to a very different world.
My own father went to war with the Somerset Light Infantry as a strong, robust young man, but after three bouts of rheumatic fever he was sent to a different regiment when he was considered well enough to return to the front line. Five years later, he left with a heart condition, from which he died when I was 10 years old.
The contribution from the Empire was both extraordinary and humbling, and we should never forget that their catastrophic loss of men must have been as shattering to them as it was to us. What all these brave men witnessed must have been so agonising, it is no wonder that few could bear to speak of it.
Over the last two or three weeks, I have watched some of the Invictus Games, led so brilliantly by His Royal Highness Prince Harry. It was impossible not to be moved by the effect the games had on the participants and their families and, of course, on the millions who watched as I did. I cast my mind back to the dark days of 1918 when mental health issues were not even recognised, never mind treated. These problems were something to be ashamed of, and so were hidden from the outside world.
These were issues that affected the whole family. It was tragic that no help was on hand to support men who had been through so much. If violence became too much for the family to bear, medical help was sought, and I am sure that after many consultations, sectioning could be ordered. This was the ultimate sanction, with the patient being not only deprived of his liberty but taken away from his family.
In 1918, life was harsh. It was easier for society to accept physical problems, as they could be seen and understood, but many men led appallingly painful lives from the hidden injuries they received. Antibiotics were not available at that time to treat the ghastly wounds many men bore, often resulting in sepsis and countless horrors.
In 2018, I was spellbound by the stories of the competitors in the Invictus Games and the transformation of their lives. Today, we marvel at the skill of the doctors, surgeons and nurses, and are grateful for the brilliant and generous contribution made by all the voluntary bodies dedicated to restoring shattered military men and women.
I salute all those who, over the generations, have fought to defend our liberty and democracy. Indeed, we must never forget their sacrifice. But I thank God I am alive today, and not 100 years ago.
My Lords, I declare an interest as Member of this House elected to the Joint Committee on commemorating World War 1.
On 3 March five years ago, I had the privilege of leading a debate on how we in this House felt that the commemoration should go. I must say at the outset that I am full of admiration for the way in which the Government have handled the issue. It could have been tricky; there could have been jingoism or celebration. We do not think of those things now, but five years ago it was a concern for all of us—so I gladly congratulate the Government on the way they have handled this. To follow these sentiments, we must work out a way of continuing to pursue some of the problems that have been outlined in the last five years.
I will also single out and pay particular tribute to Dr Andrew Murrison MP, the Prime Minister’s special representative on the centenary of World War I. He has worked amazingly hard. He has been inclusive, brought people in and achieved a consensus. We all owe him a great deal for his efforts. He is in the House today and I thank him for all the work he has done.
Over the past few years, I have certainly learned a great deal about World War I. I thought I knew a bit —but, clearly, I missed many of the critical things. I am very proud to wear the khadi poppy today, because I had not fully appreciated that lesson in 2013. I appreciate it now and we owe a deep debt of gratitude to those brave souls from India who came in those days and fought.
One thing I have learned is that is quite amazing when we look at history—even crudely and not in a sophisticated way. We see the recruits and volunteers from Australia, New Zealand and Canada who flocked to come and fight for the old country—the mother country. Then you stop and think: most of these people—these Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians—had not been born in Australia, New Zealand or Canada. They had been born in Britain and left this country because they were fed up with the social class system, which they felt held them back. In 1914, the federal Government and every single state government in Australia was run by the Labour Party. I make that not as a party point but to substantiate my point that these were the rebels. But when the call came to fight for the mother country, they flocked to come—and if it had not been mishandled by the federal Labour Government, they might even have got conscription through. But they were not able to do so. I thought it was a very significant point: why the heck should they come back and fight for us when they felt as they did? But they did.
We can see the success of the past four years and all the work by the various bodies that have assisted the Government. We think of the Heritage Lottery Fund, which invested almost £100 million in over 2,000 initiatives, most of them at local level, to ensure that we discovered more history—more facts about how World War I affected people at local level. We look at the British Legion and the wonderful work it has done over the century since it was formed, and especially over the past four years. I look at how supportive the National Archives at Kew have been; I also look at local archives, which are under great financial pressure, as was alluded to from the Liberal Benches earlier today. It has been a great strain on those archivists to try to satisfy the demands of people trying to find out about what happened to their ancestors in World War I. I pay tribute to the teachers who have done so much work, not only in taking pupils across to see the battlefields under the Government’s adventurous scheme, which I fully support. They have done a wonderful job, but it has taken a lot of time, as it has with local archives.
There are historical lessons that perhaps we ought to think about. A number of people, including the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, have quite rightly made the point that in a sense this is unfinished business. Looking at the global picture, that is absolutely right—but we could act now on more immediate issues, which would perhaps help us in learning about the past and preparing for the future. We are beginning to appreciate how important freedom of information is; it is an intrinsic part of our democracy. I fully understand that you cannot be completely open when you are waging war, but I wonder whether the obsessive secrecy that still pervades a lot of activity in World War I, and even more so in World War II, stops us from learning what went on.
I mentioned schoolchildren, and much of the disappointment of schoolchildren has come when they have tried to look back at the records of their ancestors. Bearing in mind that the overwhelming majority of their ancestors were ordinary squaddies, ordinary fighting non-commissioned men, almost all the records affecting those individuals were destroyed during World War II. They were bombed because they had not been put in a safe place. The records of all the officers are safe, but not of the ordinary squaddies. So there are a lot of questions we have to look at, which makes things very difficult.
I am not a pacifist, but I have done a lot of work with people who were conscientious objectors. I have seen a plus and a minus in that. I have to give credit to the establishment in Britain, especially the parliamentary establishment, which recognised that there were good conscientious reasons why certain people were not prepared to fight. We made arrangements so those people could be excused—whereas in many other countries there was no such finesse. If they disagreed, they were sent to the front and shot. We were much more civilised—but only barely, because anybody who was judged to be objecting but not conscientiously suffered greatly.
I interviewed people like Willie Brooke, in the Huddersfield area at the time. He was a conscientious objector. He was an active member of the Independent Labour Party and a practising and active member of the Baptist Church—and he was not prepared to fight. He went all the way. Eventually he was sentenced to two years’ hard labour, much of it in solitary confinement, in Wormwood Scrubs. It was better than being shot—but, at times, I bet he had his doubts.
We must give credit where credit is due. As Dr Murrison said the other day, we are the envy of many other countries. But it is not only that people are full of envy for us: as I said to him, they are full of admiration for us. But we must not forget the lessons and must try to move forward with much more openness and information available.
My Lords, I start by echoing what has been said in praise of the Government’s efforts to bring the Armistice and Great War to the notice of the nation. Commemoration has changed very much. In 1938, I was being driven by my father in his car down Broad Street in Oxford. When we got to the join between Trinity College and Balliol, going towards the station, there was the most enormous bang that surprised me greatly. What surprised me more was that, at that moment, all the traffic stopped, all the engines were turned off, all the pedestrians stopped walking and all the men took off their hats and bowed their head. It remained like that, a tableau suspended in time, for two minutes until life resumed.
What happens now is entirely different, but in a way it penetrates more deeply into the consciousness of society—of the people who make up this country and its character and are responsible for its future. One purpose of commemoration, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, put it in an admirable speech, is to learn. The question is: have we learned? We will come to that later.
I want to follow the footsteps of my father a little further. He volunteered in 1914, abandoning his degree course in classics. He had got a first in mods. He went into a territorial regiment from Hampshire and was shipped out with it to India. He trained at Quetta and was put with his unit into four ships which were part of a large convoy heading to the Western Front. The troops were principally Indians, so I entirely agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on their importance, because throughout the campaign my father was among a principally Indian force fielded by the Indian Government. The delays at the beginning were due to a disagreement between Delhi and Westminster about what the objective was. It finished up being Baghdad.
This is a good time to look at the Turkish campaign, not only because, as my noble friend Lord Cope said, it is somewhat overlooked, but because today is the 104th anniversary of the declaration of war on the Turks by the British—so this is very apposite moment at which to look back at that extraordinary campaign. It started at Basra, which we got to know again during the unfortunate Iraqi escapade. The British force fought its way for getting on for 100 miles to Ctesiphon, where the advance party, which was the major part of the force, such was the generalship of the day, met a Turkish force. The advance party had met only outposts before as they fought their way on foot. The Turkish force defending Ctesiphon was almost exactly twice the size of the British force and was fresh out of Baghdad. The British force lost two-thirds of its men and then had to make a fighting retreat to a fortified bend in the River Tigris, which it defended against the Turks.
The conditions were appalling. The well-known Arab phrase about the Mesopotamian valley is that when Allah made hell, it was not bad enough, so he invented Mesopotamia and then added the flies. The flies were monstrous in their number. You could not see your horse’s head for flies in bad weather. The ground was alternately baked solid, so you could hardly get a trenching tool into it, or powdery dust which turned to a sort of sloppy treacle when it rained and through which you had to advance.
In Kut al-Amara, where they were besieged for five months, the British force dug three lines of trenches across the two bends in the river that made the loop so they were fortified in the loop. There was a small town there. They had more supplies than they might have expected because the town was an advanced supply dump for the expected advance on Baghdad. By the end of the siege, the troops had undergone various horrors. Apart from constant bombardment, the Tigris flooded the trenches on both sides. They had to retreat to the third lines, and they were waist-deep in water. In the winter months it got so cold that the blankets which were all the troops had to put over their heads against the rain froze to the parapet. In his book, Colonel Spackman records that those who came out from France said that until they had seen Mesopotamia they had no idea what real suffering was. I have seen photographs of the troops at the end of the siege and they exactly resemble the photographs of prisoners in Belsen, to which a noble Lord referred—toast-racks.
Then the horror began. They had surrendered and the officers were separated from the men. I am somewhat confused in my delivery because only this morning I found a long document that my father wrote to his father from the prison camp that he eventually finished up in. I shall give noble Lords an idea of what it was like immediately after the surrender—after they had said goodbye to their scarecrow troops:
“But officers coming later over the same roads north of Baghdad have brought uglier tales than these: of British soldiers found dying naked & alone on dungheaps on the fringe of some Arab town; or straggling from the march & not seen again; of men whose faces were livid dust-masks unrecognisable to close friends; men knocked on the head or buried scarcely dead; a poor death for an Englishman indeed … By October reports said that not more than six hundred of the two thousand three hundred British were alive & they were dying still, incapable of the work given them, diseased & without doctors, unburied often, sometimes buried scarcely dead. Such were facts you may one day know at home as well as we; but the horror of these men’s deaths you will never quite imagine, forgotten, they must have thought themselves, by God & men. I have seen the country, great, lonely, inscrutable; I knew the men & I have a fair imagination for horrors, but I can imagine nothing more horrible than this. Did any soldiers who fell in these wars suffer more or longer for their country, or with less earthly reward?”
That is focused on the British contingent. The same horrors or worse were being undergone by the Indians.
The point I will make very briefly is this: what did it do to my father? He went through part of that horrible march himself and got into officers’ confinement, which was better than the men’s. When he came back to England, he was convinced of something that he later wrote in a book: “I have only two prejudices: one is for democracy and the other is that I am a Christian”. His reaction, noble Lords opposite will be pleased to hear, was to stand as a Labour candidate for a Bristol constituency. He became a right-hand man to Ramsay MacDonald and, after losing one election and very nearly winning the second, was put into your Lordships’ House.
Fast forward to, I suppose, 1947. He took me for a walk in the fields, obviously with some intention. He said, “I know you’ll be interested in what I’ve been doing in Westminster. I thought you’d like to know that now the National Health Act is on the statute book, every objective for which I joined the Labour Party has been achieved. I see no purpose in belonging to any political party and I am going to sit on the Cross Benches”, which he did thereafter. He played a notable part in the interwar years. On the eve of the war, he was foremost among those who said we simply had to stand up to Nazism. All that suffering did not deter him from the necessity of standing up to what he saw as sheer evil.
He went on to say in his book—I will finish in a minute—that we stood at the beginning of another era, and that the decision had to be whether that era would be formed by Hitler and those who thought like him or by us and the Americans and those who thought like us. The question is—and again I go back to the speech by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup—whether or not we stand on the lip of another era. I very much think that we do. We need to look at what is needed to survive, in terms of courage, honesty and self-sacrifice, for any country to succeed. Society must be just, and your Lordships will recognise that there are open questions about how we settle our society so it is at peace with itself and regards itself as being just.
I have gone on for too long, but I was very excited by the document that I found and I feel passionately that we are on the edge of great events that we have to forestall.
Brexit: Arrangements for EU Citizens
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend Caroline Nokes to an Urgent Question in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, while we are confident in agreeing a good deal for both sides, as a responsible Government we will continue to prepare for all scenarios, including the unlikely outcome that we leave the EU without any deal in March 2019. We have reached an agreement with the EU on citizens’ rights that will protect those EU citizens and their family members who are resident in the UK until the end of the planned implementation period on 31 December 2020.
We are introducing the EU settlement scheme under UK immigration law for resident EU citizens and their family members covered by the draft withdrawal agreement. This will enable those who are resident in the UK before the end of the planned implementation period on 31 December 2020 to confirm their status under the EU settlement scheme. Anyone who already has five years’ continuous residence in the UK when they apply under the scheme will be eligible to apply for settled status. Those who have not yet reached five years’ continuous residence will be eligible to be granted pre-settled status and will be able to apply for settled status once they reach the five-year point.
In the unlikely event of a no deal, the Prime Minister has already confirmed that all EU citizens resident here by 29 March 2019 will be welcome to stay. They are part of our community, and part of our country, and we welcome the contribution that they make. Last week, the Prime Minister extended that commitment to citizens of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, and we are close to reaching an agreement with Switzerland. We will set out further details shortly so that those affected can have the clarity and certainty they need”.
I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question in the other place. Last week the Immigration Minister told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee that in the event of a no-deal Brexit:
“If somebody has not been here prior to the end of March next year, then employers will have to make sure that they go through adequately rigorous checks to evidence somebody’s right to work”.
First, was that statement correct in all respects: that employers after 29 March 2019 will have to differentiate between resident EU citizens already here and those arriving after our departure from the EU? Secondly, if the Immigration Minister’s statement was correct, what form will these “rigorous checks” after 29 March take that employers will have to make sure that EU citizens not already here prior to that date will have to go through to evidence their right to work? How will these rigorous checks differ from what employers have to do at present when EU citizens seek work here under the existing EU free movement of labour provisions? Finally, when will sadly lacking publicly available written guidance on this specific issue be provided?
I thank the noble Lord for that question. Regarding employer checks, he will know that employers already need to carry out right-to-work checks on EU citizens, and that will not change. It is clear that employers will carry out right-to-work checks on EU citizens as they already do, and they will not be expected to differentiate between a resident EU citizen and those arriving after March 2019. However, in addition, I understand that employers have been given toolkits to enable them to carry out their duties in the right way.
My Lords, can the Minister clarify that? The Prime Minister promised EU citizens that they could stay come what may—that is, in the event of a no deal—and that is repeated in the reply today. First, how can we have confidence in a Prime Ministerial assurance which is then contradicted by a junior Minister? Are the Government planning to introduce legislation in the event of no deal that could impose work restrictions on EU nationals and sanctions on employers in relation to those restrictions? I do not think that that any current legislative requirement would cover that situation. The Minister said that EU nationals are subject to employer checks at the moment. Can she clarify what those checks are, because I think that EU nationals are in a different position to non-EU nationals, who are subject to immigration control? Lastly, will there be other hostile environment checks on rights to healthcare, benefits and so on?
The noble Baroness will know, because my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has already said it, that there will not be a hostile environment. There will continue to be a compliant environment now and when we leave the European Union. On the Prime Minister’s statement that EU citizens can stay, I do not think that she has been contradicted by a junior Minister. I add that my right honourable friend Caroline Nokes—if that is who the noble Baroness was referring to—is not a junior minister; she is in fact a member of the Cabinet. Is that who the noble Baroness was referring to?
Indeed I was, but it is even more serious if a member of the Cabinet has contradicted the Prime Minister.
She has not contradicted the Prime Minister, as far as I am aware. Employers will carry out those right-to-work checks, as they have to date. The beta testing scheme over the past couple of months has already started the ball rolling for citizens regularising their status to be able to stay in this country. That will be rolled out more fully in the new year.
My Lords, I understood from the Minister in the other place that the Government are minded to bring forward an immigration Bill shortly that will set out the criteria for skilled workers post Brexit. Will my noble friend give the House an assurance that those currently filling positions in care places and hospitals who are not deemed to be skilled workers will still be admitted after Brexit to continue to fill those roles if they are not filled otherwise?
My noble friend is absolutely right that an immigration Bill will be arriving in the Commons shortly. If those people currently filling places are EU citizens—I am guessing she was referring to EU citizens—have been here for five years, they can automatically get their settled status. If they have not been here for five years, they can get temporary status, which will become full status when they have been here for five years.
My Lords, can the Minister confirm reports that victims of modern slavery and women who have been trafficked who are EU citizens will be required to pay a fee to the Home Office before they are allowed to stay? Can she explain the reasons behind that, given how difficult it can be to enable victims of modern slavery to come forward to be rescued?
The noble Lord raises a very valid point about victims of modern slavery, who will be supported and helped when they come here no matter what country they are from. Depending on their situation, they will be helped either to move on within this country or to move back to the country of their origin.
My Lords, is it not the case that post-Brexit, we will be able to allow anyone whom we want to have in the UK to live and work here? Is it not also the case that we will not need to put visa controls on EU citizens if we do not want to and we want to have them here?
My noble friend is right and the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear. That is why we are making those arrangements for EU citizens to have their settled status here, either pre-settled if they have been here less than five years or settled if they have been here for five years or more. We want them to stay here and continue to work here. The Prime Minister has made that crystal clear; it would be good if the EU could also do that.
Can the Minister clarify the reports last week about people who achieve settled status but subsequently leave the United Kingdom for a prolonged period of years? Would their settled status allow them to come back into the United Kingdom after, say, five years and achieve the rights they had prior to their departure?
The noble Lord is absolutely right to point out that some people might come here and then leave and then come back again. Five years’ continuous residence in this country will entitle people to settled status, but they can apply for pre-settled status if they have been here for less than five years. On the point about getting settled status, leaving and then coming back again, I will have to get back to him because I do not know the answer.
My Lords, the original Answer refers to applications that will be needed, and those will not be entirely straightforward for everyone. I appreciate that pilots are going on at the moment, but people such as those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, might well not find it easy—indeed, find it a deterrence—facing the bureaucracy and dealing with the authority that this involves. Can the Minister confirm that the Home Office will consider sympathetically a different way of dealing with people in this group and the possibility of waiving the fee for them?
My Lords, it is very important to outline that anybody who is vulnerable in any way—including victims of modern slavery, sex-trafficking or whatever it might be—will get the support that they need from the appropriate authorities when they arrive here. I cannot stand at the Dispatch Box and say that fees will be waived because, as far as I know, they will not be. However, I can say that people who need our support will get it when they arrive here in very vulnerable situations.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.
“Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the changes announced to universal credit in the Budget last week and on the managed migration regulations, which we are laying in the House today. The Chancellor announced a substantial package at the Budget to ensure that millions keep more of what they earn, and vulnerable claimants are supported when they move to universal credit. In total, this package will be worth an extra £4.5 billion across the next five years.
I want to say a special thank you to all the colleagues, charities, third sector organisations, Jobcentre Plus staff and claimants who fed back to me to build this package of support to ensure universal credit is a fair system, supporting thousands who cannot work, as well as thousands who can. I would also like to thank my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor for their support to deliver these measures.
Make no mistake: this is a department that listens and a department that will continue to listen, adapt, change and deliver. We will put an extra £1.7 billion a year into work allowances, increasing the amount that hard-working families can earn by £1,000 before universal credit is tapered away—providing extra support for 2.4 million working families. Of course, the Opposition do not like helping 2.4 million families, which is why they are laughing, because we help and support people into work. That is why it was welcomed not only in this House but among charities like the Child Poverty Action Group, which said:
‘The work allowance increase is unequivocally good news for families receiving universal credit’;
and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which said that this extra investment,
‘will help make Universal Credit a tool for tackling poverty’.
We have gone further, recognising the genuine concerns raised about the support we were offering people, especially the most vulnerable, when they move to universal credit. So we have made a further £1 billion package of changes, providing two additional weeks of DWP legacy benefits for those who move on to universal credit—a one-off, non-repayable sum that will provide claimants with extra money during the period before they receive their first universal credit payment. This is on top of the two additional weeks of housing benefit announced at Autumn Budget 2017, and put into place this year. We will also support the self-employed moving to universal credit. We will open up a 12-month grace period before the minimum income floor is applied, supporting 130,000 self-employed claimants, because we are the party of business—we are the party of aspiration.
We will support those in debt by reducing the normal maximum rate at which debts are deducted from universal credit awards, from 40% to 30% of standard allowances. This will help over 600,000 families to manage their debts at any one point when rollout is complete, providing them with, on average, £295 extra a year as their debts are repaid over a longer period. This is targeted support to help work pay and support the vulnerable.
That is why today I lay regulations to deliver the next phase of universal credit: managed migration, through which people will be moved on to universal credit. It is a move from a system that trapped people on benefits and created cliff edges at 16, 24 and 30 hours, with punitive effective tax rates of over 90% for some. Under Labour, between 1997 and 2010, benefit spend went up by 65%. In 1997, households were paying £5,500 in taxes to fund the benefits system, and by 2010 it had risen to £8,350. This party was voted into office to manage the country’s finances and get them under control, and to make sure that the benefits bill was affordable and sustainable for the future. So while the party opposite may hanker for the dark old days—trapping people on benefits, excluding them from the opportunity of work and getting on in life, while at the same time delivering a big bill to the taxpayer—we do not.
Under this Government 3.4 million more people are in work, the vast majority of which are full-time and permanent roles. That means that we have created more new jobs in the UK since 2010 than France, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria and Norway combined, alongside creating a welfare system that supports those who need it.
Through universal credit, around 1 million disabled households will receive around an extra £100 on average per month through more generous support. The managed migration regulations will, in addition, protect 500,000 people’s severe disability premium at the point of migration, and will deliver transitional protection for those we move, to ensure that at the point of moving, those manage-migrated have their entitlements protected.
We will take a measured approach to delivering managed migration, taking our time to get it right and working with claimants to co-design it. We will continue to take on board the advice of experts and charities such as the Social Security Advisory Committee, whose report on the regulations we have published, along with our response today. We have accepted in full or part all but one of its recommendations, and the one we did not accept is because we want to make it more generous.
I pay tribute to the hard work of the Social Security Advisory Committee in scrutinising our regulations. We have changed a key part of the regulations, which charities, MPs and the department have asked me about, which relates to the minimum statutory notice period for people moving from their legacy award to universal credit. We have extended this period from a minimum of one month to a minimum of three months, to allow claimants maximum time to prepare and make their claim before their legacy award expires. Alongside this, we have unlimited flexibility to extend claim periods for people who need it. We will also back-date any claimant who has missed the deadline date but who has made a claim within a month of the deadline day passing. We will also test a variety of communications methods, including advertising campaigns, face-to-face communication, letters, texts, telephone calls and home visits. This will provide support for claimants during managed migration. We will constantly review our approaches, engaging fully with charities, experts, claimants and all Members of this House. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement.
This is a very large pile of sticking plaster. I am glad that some of it is there—it is better than not having it—but in fact, it highlights just what a problem lies underneath that which the Government are addressing. For years, Ministers have told the House that all is well with universal credit, and whenever concerns were raised on these or other Benches, they said that we were scaremongering. Whenever charities or churches raised it, they were scaremongering. Even the NAO joined in last June, publishing a damning report about the impact of universal credit. But I am glad that Ministers are beginning to acknowledge that some issues need tackling, and some steps have been taken today which are welcome.
I welcome the increase in work allowances in universal credit. Noble Lords will recall, I am sure, the time in 2015 when my late and sorely missed friend Lady Hollis of Heigham led your Lordships in demanding that the Government think again about those cuts in work allowances. Ministers agreed to do it in tax credits, but they did not for universal credit. But today they have restored £1,000 of that cut, which feels like a good tribute to my noble friend. However, a bit of me feels that it is still only half of what was taken off in that Budget. I am aware that that sounds a bit grudging. I do not like looking a gift horse in the mouth, but if someone gives me two horses then takes them away, then comes back a long time afterwards and gives me one horse, I will still hanker slightly after the two horses that I had in the first place. Your Lordships will forgive me if I am being a bit disgruntled but two horses are better than one. None the less, one horse is better than none. I will stop the metaphor now.
Other things in the Statement are welcome. The decision to roll on other means-tested benefits for two weeks for those moving across to universal credit is good, but the Red Book seems to suggest that that will kick in only from July 2020. Can the Minister clarify whether, if people move across from other benefits any time between now and 2020—for example, because they move into a universal credit area or they have a change of circumstance—they will get no help at all? Will they still be stuck, having to wait five weeks for all this money? What will happen there? I also welcome the minor change to the self-employed rules, but I still think that UC for low-income self-employed people is an absolute mess that will unravel before very long.
The real new announcements today are about managed migration. This really matters because, as the IFS said in its Budget commentary, this is,
“a huge change quite deliberately creating millions of winners and millions of losers. Something like a third … will be at least £1,000 a year worse off under UC than under the legacy system while about a quarter will be at least £1,000 a year better off”.
Ministers keep saying that no one will lose money as a result of moving on to UC. That is not because of generosity; it is because people have transitional protection which says they will not lose out at the point where they move across. However, Ministers do not often tell us that this applies only to some people. There are two ways you can get on to universal credit: through natural migration, where you move to a new area and have a change in circumstances—with this you get no transitional protection; or, at some point between now and three or four years down the road, the Government will move across anyone who is left, in a process that is called managed migration.
As this process is called managed migration, everyone assumed people would be managed. It now turns out they will not be managed at all. They will get a letter saying, “Your benefits are going to be cut off on this date”—I am glad it could be three months rather than one—“and if you don’t make a fresh claim, you will get no money”. If you make a claim after that deadline but within a month, you will get transitional protection; if it is after a month plus a week you will get no transitional protection even if you got your claim in.
Let us bear in mind that this is a complicated process. Around 30% of people who start an online claim give up before it is finished and put into payment. This could be really serious, especially for vulnerable people. The process essentially shifts the burden of responsibility from the state on to the individual, to deal with the consequences of the state moving almost 3 million people from their current benefits; of these, over one-third are either too sick or disabled to work. This is potentially very serious indeed.
The Social Security Advisory Committee had a number of concerns, most of which have been accepted, often in principle. Anyone who has read one of these reports knows that there can be a big difference between accepting something in principle and doing what the committee recommended. One classic example is that the committee suggested that the DWP—rather than making everybody make a fresh claim—could carefully analyse, segment by segment, and look for ways in which certain groups could be carved out and moved across automatically. The DWP simply said no. It said it needed clean data for everybody or that some people such as tax credit recipients may not be eligible. That is not trying. Why will the Government not take up that recommendation and try very hard to see whether some people might not need to make an application?
The Budget announced a further delay to the rollout, which was scored, by my reading, as a net saving to the Government amounting to around £1.2 billion over five years. Can the Minister explain that? I might be completely wrong, but it seems to me that one of the effects of delaying managed migration is that more people will end up moving across to UC on their own—because they move house, have a baby, or their kid leaves home, or whatever. That leaves fewer people at the end. It also means that all those people will not get transitional protection because they were not there at the end, which costs them money but saves the Government money. Does this change make any difference to the number of people who will eventually be in managed migration? The SSAC also raised some real concerns about deliverability. I do not have time today to go through all my outstanding concerns about universal credit. The Minister is shaking her head. Perhaps I can refer her to the questions the committee was asking about operational deliverability; I certainly had a different take from her on that.
I am deeply concerned that this is a sticking plaster while the underlying body is in serious trouble. I believe this could go badly wrong. There is a reason why the Opposition finally ended up calling for the rollout to stop. I am deeply worried that this is not going to work in the way the Government imagine. For 3 million people, as well as all those on the legacy system who will move across sooner, the benefits system is the only thing that stands between many of them and destitution. We cannot afford to get this wrong.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, on her analysis of the changes that have been made. Some are very welcome, but we are still facing a major, dramatic piece of administrative change. It will severely affect vulnerable families who are on low legacy benefits at the moment. I do not think it is safe to do this without somehow making an attempt to get an impact assessment of what the long-term effects will be. This legislation was originally put in place in the Welfare Reform Act 2012. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. We now have some very detailed and complicated regulations. Before we start the process, it would be good to know what the department expects the outcome to be. If we cannot get that, we will to a large extent be flying in the dark.
I welcome the three-month grace period for the minimum statutory notice period for the benefit, but we still have a hard stop at the end of that. Three months is better than one month, but can the Minister explain the sentence in the Secretary of State’s Statement which deals with the one-month period becoming three months? It says that,
“we have unlimited flexibility to extend claim periods for people who need it”.
Can she say what the circumstances are in which someone could claim to need that? Unlimited flexibility could mean that people were not facing a hard stop for legacy benefits, so it would be very useful to understand better what that sentence actually means.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and with the Social Security Advisory Committee, that it would be much safer to try and segment some of the clients we are approaching in managed migration to identify vulnerable people. I do not mean vulnerable only in terms of disability and so on, but also in terms of heavy indebtedness, which means that they are unlikely to be able to withstand a long—or indeed any—gap in benefit provision during transition. We know that data is available, because organisations such as Policy in Practice are already stitching together local authority housing benefit data with Treasury, HMRC and DWP data. There is enough material there to anticipate the households that will have real difficulty facing this. I understand the department is saying that the systems do not talk to one another. During the managed migration period, which admittedly does not start for some time yet, we will not, as I understand it, have the advantage of an ability to mash that data and identify vulnerable groups. It can be done by think tanks and research groups; I think it should be done by the department. Proposals to differentiate the impact on different groups of people is, I believe, very important.
Another thing, from a logistics point of view, is that I understand we have to get these regulations done and dusted by the end of the calendar year. The Minister is very good at offering briefing sessions before these regulations hit the Floor; they are affirmative regulations and will need to come to the Floor of the House. I understand the urgency of getting the legality put in place to cover the department for the trial period—the test and learn period—early next year. I plead with the Minister to give us enough time collectively in this House to understand the full significance of all these changes. Some are beneficial, but we are still facing an enormous difficulty that could have a dramatic impact on low-income families in future.
I begin by welcoming the comments of both noble Lords opposite, who have welcomed at least in part what we have achieved, both through the Budget announcements and the laying of the regulations today.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, I say straightaway, up front, that unlike honourable Members in another place who did not seem to realise that we would be debating these regulations, we have—and want—to debate them. They are affirmative measures and we will debate them before the end of the year. Otherwise, if we do not get these regulations through, the transitional protection support for people will be lost; we have to make that very clear. I have pretty much put a date in the diary for my first session. I was going to alert noble Lords after our upcoming recess but, in fact, I will make sure that is sent out to all Peers tomorrow. I want to make sure that any Peer who would like a conversation has one with myself and the Minister of State for Employment—he wants to join me in engaging with all noble Lords. It is really important. We want the opportunity to spell out the detail of these regulations. We are excited about it, not least because we have listened and learned.
I have listened to the noble Baroness opposite; I know, for example, that she had a particular concern—as did the noble Lord—when we met to talk very briefly in private two months ago about what we were trying to do with the one-month minimum term to migrate claimants to UC. We have now moved that to three months. We decided on three months, rather than longer, because in talking to experts and stakeholders we decided that any longer might in fact be a disincentive and unhelpful to claimants. It felt as though it was too long a burden in front of them.
We want to do all we can to work with claimants, working with stakeholders—hence having this period now, after the full rollout of universal credit at the end of this year. We will be spending until July next year going through a test and learn process. Our process will be co-designed with stakeholders to ensure that we have listened and understood claimants’ experiences. We want a process that works well for everyone. We are focusing on building safeguards for vulnerable claimants and ensuring that we have all the necessary information to enjoy a smooth transition, with uninterrupted support.
I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, that we have decided that we do not want to do anything in terms of migrating claimants without face-to-face or online support because, when we did that, we actually got wrong what we thought would be a smooth, automatic transition from incapacity benefits to ESA—I am going back now to 2011. We got it wrong because we did not always have up-to-date information on people’s circumstances. We did what we call “pre-populate”, and we have decided as a department that that is too dangerous, in case we get it wrong again. We are talking about a huge number of people and we want to get it right.
Therefore, the test and learn process that we are going to go through before beginning the transition will be actually working with claimants who come forward to work with us, testing and trialling how we can make the process better. We have not yet developed the system for managed migration, for the very reason that we want to spend time with everybody: lab sessions, where we use researchers who have recruited claimants; pop-up testing, where researchers have visited job centres, and all the support organisations, homeless shelters and parent and child organisations, to talk to claimants and staff to get this right.
When we do start the managed migration process, we are only going to migrate a maximum of 10,000 people in the first year, which sounds slow, but we think that is the right thing to do. We want to spend all that time checking and making sure that we are right. I will be very happy to come back to your Lordships’ House to keep noble Lords informed of how that process is going, because it is absolutely important that we get it right. We are never going to get 100% of the cases right, but we will do our best.
The important thing is to explain that the two-week support is an additional payment. There will be no gap. That will help people to adjust from being paid two-weekly to four-weekly, but it does not represent any form of gap in transition in terms of payments. It is an additional payment, in addition to the two-week additional housing benefit—which, again, is a one-off cash payment to support people through the process.
I was asked what was meant by my right honourable friend in another place talking about what happens if claimants cannot migrate. We are of the opinion that we should keep the system entirely flexible, so that where a claimant has complex needs or is vulnerable, the work coach can have the option to suggest an extension of the deadline of migration, arrange a home visit or, to be entirely flexible, remove the claimant from the managed migration process entirely. We have to be careful that we do not allow people to fall through the cracks. Let us be clear that this one to three month minimum period is the minimum period for people to manage migrate, but we will be flexible, particularly with those vulnerable claimants who are having difficulty in migrating to the new system.
Before the Minister sits down, I think she may have inadvertently omitted to answer a couple of my questions. Could I invite her to check the record and write to me?
I would be extremely happy to write.
My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that these regulations will be presented to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, to which the House normally delegates these matters?
Absolutely. We will make sure that these regulations will be part of the proper process.
My Lords, I welcome the concessions in response to SSAC, and I think we owe SSAC and all the organisations that gave evidence to it a big debt. SSAC recommended that before the department starts the migration process it should undertake what it called a “rigorous and transparent assessment” including,
“how effectively Universal Credit … is currently operating”.
Given the Public Accounts Committee’s observation of,
“a culture of denial … in the face of any adverse evidence,
how can we be confident that DWP’s acceptance in principle of this recommendation will mean that, before managed migration, it really will tackle the design flaws that all the organisations on the ground are saying are preventing UC operating effectively? Following on from my noble friend, why will those who do not claim within one month of the new target date not get transitional protection, when Ministers constantly say that everyone will get transitional protection?
My Lords, let me make it clear that we are now in a very different place from when that PAC report was drafted. We are injecting an additional £4.5 billion into the system to support the migration on to universal credit. We are in a place where we are already spending £100 billion on benefits for people of working age; we have to think about sustainability and affordability.
When it comes to testing the system, we will adjust and amend our processes according to how claimants respond, which we will identify through ongoing user research with claimants, where we look to establish why claimants did not interact with the service and what they found difficult. We will use that to improve the processes. At the end of the day, though, we cannot leave the process entirely open-ended, where people for whatever reason do not choose to migrate. The important thing is that that is why we are having the whole preparation and learning process—to understand why there could be anyone who fails to go through the process or there is more than one month after the closure of when they should have applied to go on to universal credit.
We will be spending time and a lot of input into advertising campaigns; communications by text, phone and letter; and home visits. Those people will not be falling through the cracks without an extraordinary amount of effort on the part of our 83,000 employees at DWP, who are not a department in any denial whatsoever. They want this to work. They are excited about it and work hard for it; they will help us to succeed, to the best of our ability.
My Lords, can the Minister confirm that, due to the investment in work allowances, an extra 2.4 million families will keep an extra £630 per year of what they earn, by removing the taper rate from an extra £1,000 of earnings?
My noble friend is absolutely right. The measures in relation to work allowance will make an enormous difference to families. The measure directs additional support in a package worth £1.7 billion across Britain, to some of the most vulnerable, low-paid working families. If a single claimant has responsibility for a child or qualifying young person, or has limited capability, they currently receive a work allowance of £198 per month and those with housing costs £409. With universal credit, raising the current work allowances will mean direct additional funding to working families with children, and working disabled people, by allowing them to keep more of their earnings before the taper rate is applied.
My Lords, the Minister will not be surprised if I focus on the self-employed. The Social Security Advisory Committee has acknowledged that the main concern about the self-employed was not the grace period, though it acknowledged that a small extension is welcome, but the principle of the minimum income floor itself. Organisation after organisation submitted evidence to the committee to say that this would not work. The committee requested that,
“the Department should undertake a robust evaluation of the policy and its operation ... It is important to determine whether it operates equitably, what effect it has on the self-employed themselves, and what effect it is having on start-ups generally”,
“evaluation should extend to the related tests of ‘gainful self-employment’ which underpin the way in which the Minimum Income Floor operates”.
There is a fundamental flaw in the way that that has been structured. Can the Minister give some assurance that there will be such a robust evaluation of the policy?
My Lords, in all that we are doing with universal credit we constantly question and consider issues of substantive policy, because we want to make sure that the system works for the long term. The Government want to support people to be self-employed but it is right for them to be financially self-sufficient. Key to this is continuing to support people in, or considering, self-employment to progress to a level of sustained financial self-sufficiency. We recognise that it takes time for new businesses to grow and that even established businesses can experience difficulties. We will therefore provide all gainfully self-employed claimants with an equal chance and support from specially trained work coaches to grow their earnings, and to prepare and adjust for the application of the minimum income floor. We were going to move the minimum income floor to six months after migration, but have decided to introduce a grace period of 12 months.
My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the severe disability premium and the serious implications of not getting these regulations through. Will she confirm that these regulations support the most vulnerable claimants moving to universal credit and that, moreover, voting against them would deprive 500,000 claimants of that premium?
My noble friend is entirely right. I could not put it better myself. We have to make sure that we get these regulations through. If we do not, that support for half a million vulnerable people will be lost. The regulations provide transitional support for recipients of the severe disability premium while removing the complexity of dealing with different rules for seven different disability additions. We want to make sure that we take special care of those people when migrating them on to UC. As the CEO of Citizens Advice, Gillian Guy, said,
“improved protection for people who receive the Severe Disability Premium is a welcome move that will mean better financial security for many disabled people who move onto Universal Credit”.
We must have these regulations.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the information she has given about the changes made in the Budget last week. However, she will know that the Government had already pre-announced billions of pounds to be cut from the budget that will facilitate universal credit by 2020. Last week’s announcements have given some money back, but not all of it. The Government’s original estimate was that universal credit would lift 350,000 children out of poverty, but the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that, as a result of these changes, an extra 1.2 million children will grow up in poverty by 2020. What is the Minister’s latest estimate for raising families and children out of poverty as a result of universal credit?
I am proud to say that this country provides more benefits for families than any other advanced nation. I do not recognise the estimates; it is not right to make estimates without any underlying evidence. We have come a long way since the cuts some years ago to which the noble Baroness referred. There were cuts right across the board, in all departments. For example, the cost of social security went up by 65% under Labour and was becoming totally unsustainable. We could not continue with that rise. We have therefore had to adjust and make some very difficult choices.
We are doing all we can, with the working tax allowance and increased support for childcare costs, to support children and families. An additional 80,000 working parents who are in receipt of transitional protection and who access support for childcare costs provided by UC are expected to benefit from these regulations. The support for childcare costs provided by universal credit, worth up to £1,108 per month for two or more children, is more generous than the system it replaces. However, the most important support that anyone in a family can give their children is being in work; setting a course for that family out of poverty—a hand up, not a handout—and being role models for the children. There are over 800,000 job vacancies at the moment. We want to do everything we can to support people into work, because that is the best way to lift children out of poverty.
My Lords, a moment ago the Minister said that we had come a long way. I am not sure that is how millions of people who have endured this Government’s cuts would view matters, even though a portion is put back in today’s announcements. The Minister said that home visits would be available for help with a claim. On what basis would that be? Would they be available as of right to anybody who seeks one? I recall that with ESA there were meant to be automatic home visits for people with mental health issues. I do not believe that ever happened. What assurances do we have that it will be robust in this case?
It is important to explain a little more about the test and learn process, which is one of the reasons why we are taking longer than we might to introduce the first tranche of managed migration. We are not doing this by ourselves. It is very much a co-design with a number of charities, the third sector and researchers to help us work out our monitoring. We will closely monitor the quality of communications which we will issue, and whether they are understood by recipients, before we increase the pace of migration. We are also making sure to put out letters that are easier to understand, and constantly working out what we can do. However, if we hear nothing from a claimant, we will offer home visits. That has to be an opportunity for those who are genuinely afraid of change. That is one reason why we on this side feel passionately. The less scaremongering around this system, the better. I put some of the blame on the media, which has not fully understood it.
We are trying to lift people out of the system that trapped them in poverty—on legacy benefits with cliff edges, where they could not work more than 16 or 24 hours a week without losing benefits. The brilliant thing about this simplification—merging six benefits into one—is that you do not lose your benefits. Your benefits may now increase by £1,000 before they begin to taper, and the taper rate has just been reduced from 40% to 30% of your standard allowance. I also remind the party opposite that when it left government and this party came into power—the noble Baroness may shake her head—this Government had to fund debt amounting to 10% of our GDP. That was the issue facing us.
Would the Minister care to reconsider what she has just said about the taper rates being reduced from 40% to 30%?
My Lords, I am sorry, it should be the debt repayment rate. I am grateful to the noble Lord. I am so eager to get this right, and noble Lords may understand that there are quite a lot of numbers and it is quite technical. I am quite emotional about the fact that we are the party of social mobility and we have introduced a system that we genuinely believe will be better for everyone. It is, however, a very hard system to get right for everyone, because everyone is different—we are dealing with different situations and circumstances and we do not want people to fall through the cracks.
I appreciate what the noble Baroness has just said, because it is an extraordinarily complex system, and this is the biggest—and riskiest—change in social security for decades. She has said that people’s lives are different. When she refers to working conditions and benefits, surely she should remember what we have been saying about the need to take great care—universal credit is great in principle but very difficult to get right. A redesign should not be beyond the Government’s confidence.
I will repeat one question that was raised by both my noble friend on our Front Bench and by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. If the Government want, as they must, to simplify whatever they can, surely they should have a better answer than the one they have given about why they do not segment certain categories of people that cannot be treated universally. It would be relatively simple to do. Apparently the department has said that it cannot be done. That is not a good enough reason when the noble Baroness is struggling to explain what will happen. There is a risk of mistakes that will bear down on the very poorest with disastrous results. This is not scaremongering, and I resent it being described so: these are very serious challenges for the very poorest in our society.
I agree with some of what the noble Baroness said but not that I am struggling—I am just saying as much as possible in the time allowed. There is a lot to say—a lot that is positive. I repeat, however, that she is correct in saying that it is hard and that we have to get it right. That is why we are going to spend so much time on the design, which is not there yet—we have not yet designed the managed migration process. That is the point: we will have rolled out universal credit itself in all the jobcentres—634 of them, I think—by the end of this year, but we will take the actual managed migration process much more slowly, because it will lift people already on benefits from legacy benefits on to universal credit.
I wish that we could automatically transfer certain categories of people seamlessly, but we did that in 2011 when we were moving people from incapacity benefit to ESA, and the problem was that we missed some people’s change of circumstances and underpaid them. We do not want to take that risk again—we would be facing another judicial review. We know, however, that about 700,000 people are not receiving the legacy benefits—worth about £2.4 billion—that they are entitled to, and we want them to. That is one of the main reasons why we want face-to-face contact—work coaches and claimants working together to make sure that they get the right support.
Armistice Day: Centenary
Motion to Take Note (Continued)
My Lords, the return to the main debate, after just over an hour, is rather a challenge.
I remember something said to me by one of my old schoolteachers, who many years ago was apparently set the task of setting questions about World War 1 for a public examination. The process was going fairly well until he decided that he would be clever and ask what did not change after World War 1. He came up with the answer that there was nothing that did not change. So trying to understand how important the war was is one of the most important things we can do to understand our own past.
It was the first total war, the first time as a modern state we had anything like universal conscription, and the first time that the full weight of an empire was thrown into a war. We have heard many contributions, particularly about the Indian army, but armies from across the Empire came to aid us—in France, the Middle East and Africa. The entire state convulsed into doing something. Those four-and-a-half years probably changed the course of our history and our structure. That alone would be worth remembering, even without the hideous loss of young men’s lives. An egality of suffering was established in a way it had never been before. The sons of the aristocracy led the charges over the top and were mown down a split second before the people behind them. The nature of what we went through united the nation in a way that virtually nothing has done before or since. I hope that after four years of very good memorial services we will take a series of lessons with us and build on them.
The first lesson is probably that it was not just Tommy Atkins who fought. I remember that about four years ago I had an exchange with the noble Lord, Lord Lexden—who is speaking after me—and I pointed out just how dated “Oh! What a Lovely War” was when I tried to show it to my daughter. We now have a better idea of how the whole nation came together, and the concepts of what went on have changed over time and should be constantly examined. The role of women in society was undoubtedly changed by the contribution that they made to all aspects of World War 1. We must look at it as a whole, and the great success of this remembrance is that we have drawn people’s attention to the war. The big public displays—the Tower of London, the public opening and closing ceremonies, and many others—have been a great success. Those of us who are interested have listened and learned.
However, if we get over-congratulatory with ourselves we will miss a major opportunity. Over the weekend a little survey I did about whether one or two things had penetrated showed that, alarmingly, not everybody has picked up on this stuff. One of the most constant themes your Lordships will have picked up is the contribution of the Indian army. However, an alarmingly high number of people did not realise what that contribution was. Those of us who are here may think that is almost impossible—but it has happened. We have also vaguely known about the contribution of Australia and New Zealand. Somebody said to me, “But weren’t they only at Gallipoli?” We must try to get beyond the public perception that this is just happening to us.
Although my noble friend’s very moving description of her own family reached down there, the fact is that other people on those ships on which her ancestor died would have come from other nations and would have been supporting us. Often they were nations tied to us by empire. A bond created by conquest is a very odd thing when you think about it for a second. How do we build on this? That is what I hope we will take away. We cannot continually be in a state of celebration of the past or one particular bit of the past.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, pointed out that we changed the map of Europe only to change it again shortly afterwards after an even worse conflagration. This time it was not just the young men who died—everybody was affected. In half-dealing with nationalism or concepts of empire and self, we released forces that nobody could have foreseen at the time. Eternal lessons must be reinforced and built on. If we do not do that, we will have lost this opportunity and the work that has been done. Every time we invest time, money and effort into reminding ourselves of what happened, we must use it as a building block for tomorrow.
In a few years’ time, those of us who are still in this House or in its successor body, whatever happens, will have to think about commemorating World War II. That will be an even bigger and more complex challenge, and I hope that at the end of this period we will reflect and prepare for something that will challenge us and, more importantly, our children even more than this has done.
My Lords, I will reflect a little on some of the events of Armistice Day itself, a century ago, and I begin, as is right and proper, with the monarch. Throughout his reign, King George V dutifully wrote up his diary at the end of each day. He expressed himself in terse, straightforward language, which reflected his character. Late in the evening of 11 November 1918 he wrote that:
“Today has indeed been a wonderful day, the greatest in the history of the Country”.
He had witnessed remarkable public rejoicing. Time and again, he and Queen Mary had been brought out on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at the insistence of immense crowds that stretched as far as the eye could see. It seems that the King contributed more to the events of that wonderful day than has been generally recognised.
The British representative at the Armistice negotiations in Compiègne, Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss, the supreme allied naval commander, entrusted to his family an account of what had passed during the discussions that led up to the signing of the Armistice at 5 am, and its implementation at 11 am. According to Wemyss, the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, who had contributed so much to victory, instructed him to arrange for the Armistice to come into force at 2.30 pm when the House of Commons was due to meet so that he could reveal it to striking effect. Wemyss telephoned the King, suggesting that the 11th hour would be a far better time. George V agreed and the plan was changed, much to Lloyd George’s displeasure.
Lloyd George deserved, and received, great prominence on that wonderful day. In the two years since he had become Prime Minister, the political conduct of the war had been infused with a dynamism unknown under his predecessor, Herbert Asquith, great man though he was in his way.
The wonderful day was naturally tinged with deep sorrow. Long queues formed outside cathedrals and churches, for people felt a pressing need to reflect on the enormous sacrifices that had been made over four long years, as well as to give thanks for victory. Late in the evening, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, walked home from Downing Street. In his diary, he recorded encountering an elderly woman, dressed in deep mourning, sobbing her heart out. He said to her, “You are in trouble—is there anything that I can do for you?”. She replied, “Thank you, but no. I am crying, but I am happy, for now I know that all my three sons who have been killed in the war have not died in vain”. Sorrow and joy stood side by side.
The wonderful day was wonderfully free of speeches. After reading the terms of the Armistice to a packed House of Commons, Lloyd George said:
“This is no time for words. Our hearts are too full of a gratitude to which no tongue can give adequate expression”.
He moved the immediate Adjournment of the House, suggesting that,
“we proceed, as a House of Commons, to St. Margaret’s, to give humble and reverent thanks for the deliverance of the world from its great peril”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/11/1918; col. 2463.]
Lord Curzon moved a similar Motion in this House, of which he was the Leader.
Thereafter politics resumed. The War Cabinet met at No. 10 to discuss the general election campaign, which was to begin the following day. Should a vengeful note be struck? Churchill argued that leniency should be shown to the Kaiser. Sir Henry Wilson agreed, noting in his diary:
“My opinion is that there should be a public exposé of all his works and actions and then leave him to posterity”.
During the election campaign, the political leaders concentrated on setting out their plans for post-war reconstruction and social reform to build a better world for those who had suffered so much. The subsequent, incomplete implementation of these plans does not, in my view, detract from the sincerity with which Lloyd George and his colleagues proposed them, gaining a massive majority on 14 December 1918, one month after the Armistice when, for the first time, the whole nation voted on the same day.
Towards the end of his six volumes of war memoirs, published in 1936, Lloyd George placed a particularly fine chapter entitled, An Imperial War. In it, this remarkable Welsh radical praised the indispensable contributions made by those who came to our aid from all parts of the British Empire and Commonwealth. He noted how the arrival of Indian troops had averted disaster on the Western Front in 1914-15.
“Had they stayed at home”,
“the issue of the War would have been different, and the history of the world would have taken a different course”.
Nothing has been more important during these four years of commemoration than to secure a fuller recognition of the indispensable service rendered by men and women from Asian, African and American countries. I was glad to be able to introduce a debate on that hugely important aspect of the war a few months ago. I am glad that it has loomed large in today’s debate.
Will those who come after us remember for ever the terrible war which we have commemorated so thoughtfully and respectfully over the last four years? The greatest Englishman of the last century had no doubts. There were such powerful visible reminders, thanks to the wonderful work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Speaking in 1920, two years after the Armistice, Churchill said,
“there is no reason at all why, in periods as remote from our own as we ourselves are from the Tudors, the graveyards in France of this Great War shall not remain an abiding and supreme memorial”,
“will still preserve the memory of a common purpose pursued by a great nation”.—[Official Report, Commons 4/5/1920; cols. 1970-71.]
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, for his inspiring speech opening this debate and his detailed description of the memorialising that we are doing: the remembrances and the big service at the weekend, and all the minute but important details of this national act of remembrance, which is so important psychologically, spiritually and in practical ways as well. We thank him for the details that he has given and look forward to hearing more in due course when that is relevant and applicable.
I also feel a sense of gratitude that the intervention of the Indian soldiers has been mentioned quite a few times in this debate. It has been too often forgotten, but it made an enormous difference in that, the first of the European civil wars. The First World War was the beginning of the European civil war, with, 22 years later, the second version—the two tragedies linked by just two decades—continuing the mistakes that had been made the first time. We were lucky to emerge victorious from the First World War. We are grateful to almighty God for that, and grateful for all the efforts made by many people. Most of the speeches today have been detailed descriptions of the tragedy of the First World War and the terrible losses of military life—in that war more than civilian life. All those incredibly meticulous details are important because they are part of the psychological act of remembrance that we all need so that we do not forget these things.
I declare a geographical and personal interest because, since 2001, I have lived in the Picardy/Normandy area of France, where so much of the First World War was fought. It is a searing subject for the French in that whole area, right up to Calais. Simon Heffer, in a recent article for The New European, quite rightly said that our losses were terrible, but that the French losses were even more so, and that needs to be remembered as well. It is no wonder that in 1940, at the beginning of the Second World War, Pétain was moving for an armistice, which was incredibly popular because everybody in France remembered the bloodletting and the huge loss of young male lives in that terrible episode.
I go back to the mistakes made afterwards, referred to by my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and others. I thank them for drawing the lessons of the past into the future; their speeches were notable for that. Going through the details and remembering them is vital, but drawing conclusions for the modern lessons we should learn are even more important for the whole of Europe. Living in that area, I now see a new era where the latest town-twinnings are usually with German rather than English towns. The English ones came first, and now it is the German ones.
The Second World War was even more awful, because of the deaths of so many civilians, the history of National Socialism and the terrible incidents. The war in Russia, which is often forgotten, was much more savage and brutal than the war on the Western Front—fortunately for us. These lessons need to be drawn and yet after the First World War, as my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup said, one crucial mistake was that Germany was excluded from the peace conference at Versailles, being not even a participant in the efforts to have peace. How could you do that to a country? It of course resented what happened and then came the Second World War.
If it is seen as the European civil war, we can draw the appropriate lessons about the future for this country as well. I am still feeling very sad indeed, and as I repeat on many occasions, that this country has lost its way. The appalling, tragic idea of leaving the European Union is such a mistake for this great country. The other EU member states feel that very deeply, and would be delighted and thrilled if this country had the courage to look again and change its mind. There is a huge change in public opinion as recent polls have shown. Younger participants in elections and vote-receiving activities of one kind or another are now much more minded to vote for continuing our membership of the European Union.
I know this is difficult for some Tory colleagues to accept, and I understand the awkward position they are in—they wish to support their own party and Government—but this is the reality now. If we can seize those lessons properly, and draw the appropriate conclusions, we can save this country from perdition.
My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Ashton for his introduction to this most important debate. I declare an interest as someone who has lectured in European history—and by that I mean the history of Europe, not the history of Britain as part of it. Many of us in this House are of an age where what happened in the First World War is much closer to our family history than it is for our children. My family was half from Britain and half from Ireland; they had very different experiences of the First World War. My father, who was living in Dublin at the time, has memories of the first military stirrings against the British. None of our Irish family volunteered to fight in the First World War. They stayed in Ireland, and I do not think the Irish people who went to war in 1914, when they were quite popular, were quite as popular when it got to 1918. As a youngish boy, my father remembers stones being thrown at British soldiers returning from the First World War.
My English family had a very different experience. My grandmother, who lived in Lincoln, was engaged to a young second lieutenant who was killed, and—as often happened in those days—she went on to marry his younger brother. He suffered from having been gassed, and from post-traumatic stress disorder. He never recovered from the First World War, and died in his 50s. The difference in those experiences did impinge on the whole family, because the contribution of the Irish to the First World War has also largely been forgotten. But there was a considerable contribution—from the south, from the Catholic areas—and it needs to be remembered because the First World War was a war we helped to win. Britain did not win the First World War. We have heard about the soldiers from the Commonwealth; the Americans of course joined in; and there was a lot of assistance from outside. We often forget that two Allied soldiers died for every German who died. The Germans had a pretty efficient fighting machine during the First World War—as indeed they did in the second.
I see the Armistice not as ending the First World War but as calling a ceasefire in what was effectively a 30-year war. In the second war, none of our family died—though one or two were injured. What caused it? It was caused by hatreds. Read the recent biography of Charles de Gaulle. Around 1908, during his stay in Germany, he wrote home to his parents, his mother in particular, saying how he hated the Germans, even though he was there learning the language. The build-up to the First World War was almost inevitable, and this is what worries me today.
I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, that if you keep on emphasising differences between people, you stir up trouble and hatreds. We have to work together—we are a small continent—and whereas de Gaulle grew up wishing to avenge 1870, and with a generation intent on avenging 1870, right through to 1914, we are not going to progress as a peaceful continent if we keep on emphasising our differences. If you look at the other side of the Rhine, you see that the young Adenauer felt very much the same. Adenauer and de Galle came out of the First World War ready to formulate the peace of the 1950s. It is a great shame that our leaders at that time did not join in—and I have to say that Clement Attlee was as bad as Winston Churchill in terms of actually wanting to get involved in Europe.
Another point worth remembering is that Armistice Day is not remembered in the same way all over Europe. In fact, 11 November is Polish independence day: it is a holiday there. The Finns, the Estonians, the Latvians and the Lithuanians all saw their country born out of that war. Some of us who are in the relevant all-party group will have been going to embassies to celebrate 100 years of these different countries, and their birth. So there is quite a different attitude in some countries. The Czech Republic—Czechoslovakia as it then was—was born out of the first war, and modern Turkey would probably not have arisen had Kemal Atatürk been on the side of a victorious Ottoman empire; but he was not.
The conclusion I draw from all this is that we need a certain amount of humility and we need to learn how to build a lasting peace. We need to work out how we in Europe are going to live together. We have to start, somehow or other, talking to the Russians. It is no good the Daily Mail et cetera banging on about how horrible they are: yes, they are horrible, but we will not get anywhere unless we talk to them, and unless we sit them down and get some sense out of them.
The second thing we have to realise is that war is changing. You could not possibly have a repeat of the First World War today, with its slaughter: it would not be acceptable. I put it to noble Lords that you could not have a repeat of the Second World War, either. We are now in an age when war is conducted by drones, launched from my noble friend Lord Cormack’s home county of Lincolnshire and dropping bombs in Iraq. We have a system where, frankly, a cyberwar would probably be much more effective in ending a country’s independence than a military war.
So we have to look to the future, and I say in closing that the future must be based on international co-operation. We have to work together. I share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, and many others, on the to my mind disastrous decision to leave the European Union. The only way we can go forward is by sitting down and talking to each other, and making sure that at the top of our minds is our recent history and the fact that we must never let it be repeated—and the way to achieve that relies on a lot of understanding, talk and work between us. Yes, it is frustrating. I spent 39 years in Brussels and I am a past master at knowing how frustrating these talks can be, but in the end it is the only way forward.
My Lords, amen to that. I want to say at the outset of my remarks how grateful I was, how encouraged and impressed, by the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup. He brought challenge and vision and reminded us that our real tribute to the fallen will be what we make of the future. Our determination must be to move forward positively and practically in building an international community.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, who very strongly reminded us of the contribution in the First World War of the Indians. It is a shameful story: we expected them to come here and then they were treated, to be honest, as fourth-rate participants. There is a tremendous wrong to be put right still, and if we fail to do it in this celebration of ours, it will be very amiss. It was not just the Indians—people from Africa and from the Commonwealth came and made a huge contribution. I also think we ought to remember the young people and their families of the United States, who played such a vital part in the last part of the war.
My noble friend Lord Clark is also someone to whom I am grateful. If I were to look for some way in which we have progressed in our understanding and our civilised behaviour as a nation, it is in the recognition of conscientious objection. The way conscientious objectors were treated in the First World War is a terrible story.
In my study at home, I keep on the wall a citation to my maternal uncle John, a captain in the Scottish Rifles who was badly wounded and awarded a Military Cross for his part in that episode. He had to be invalided back to the UK, where he was patched up, after a sort—most people said he was not fully patched up—and sent back to the front, where he was killed on the third day of the German spring offensive in 1918. I should just mention that his younger brother was killed on the North-West Frontier in the early 1930s, and he too was a captain, but a captain in the Indian Army. Why do I keep that citation on my wall? Because it is a constant reminder to me, as I go about my own activities, that my uncle was killed at 22. I think again and again about what a young man with the character and pluck that he obviously had might have made of his life. I ask myself: have I begun to equal what he might have contributed?
The point is that it was not just him, or indeed his younger brother later; hundreds of thousands of people went through this kind of experience. When we think of the slaughter, in appalling circumstances sometimes—people suffocating in mud—what are we doing to build a better future? The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, was absolutely right: the question we should have in our minds all the time is how we prevent this happening again. My father served on the north-west front in Italy, together with the Italians, in the First World War. He was so affected by what he saw that he dedicated his life—and I really mean that word—to working for peace and international under- standing. He was convinced that internationalism was essential to the future of civilisation. I am sure he would be cheering every word that the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, uttered. He also believed, of course, that the European Union was indispensable, because it was people coming together with practical arrangements to build a community in which war would become impossible. The words I heard again and again in my upbringing were “collective security”.
If I have anxiety at the moment, it is that we are losing that searing experience that our fathers brought back from the First World War, and indeed that our more close relatives brought back from the Second World War, of what war really means, of what it involves in suffering for civilians. We perhaps have not talked enough about civilians in this debate. It now sometimes seems that war is about civilians, and we find convenient language for dealing with an emotionally distressing situation: we talk about collateral damage. But think what that means to the families and the people who are that collateral damage. We move into a phase where war is done by remote control; pushing buttons, sending highly targeted drones, and the rest. Are we slithering towards a situation in which war is just another management option in our handling of international relations? That would be a disaster, and would certainly be the ultimate betrayal of those who fell in the First World War.
I would like to end with a quotation, because it has a profound effect on me. I love the hymns of Fred Kaan, a United Reformed Church minister of Dutch origin, who suffered under German occupation. I will quote one of his verses:
“God! As with silent hearts we bring to mind
how hate and war diminish humankind,
we pause, and seek in worship to increase
our knowledge of the things that make for peace.
Hallow our will as humbly we recall
the lives of those who gave and give their all”.
My Lords, as always, it is a very great privilege to speak in your Lordships’ House, but it is especially so on this occasion when we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War and pay our tributes to those from all across the world, and from all sides, who fought in that horrendous conflict and who gave their lives in the cause of freedom. It is even more important to me to be able to speak in this Chamber today, because my grandfather is named in the Royal Gallery war memorial.
I am a Staffordshire man, and I am very proud to have been born and bred in that county, as countless of my forebears have been. When I put my name down to speak in this debate, I read a note from the Royal British Legion which suggested that it would be appropriate if speakers could perhaps recall the parts played by their county in the Great War. I immediately thought that to be an excellent idea. So much has been said, and needed to be said, over the past four years of remembrances, that perhaps this might be a slightly different but exceptionally important angle to embark on. Therefore, in this speech—which, you will be delighted to hear, is very short—I would like to recall my county’s role.
Next Sunday, I shall have the immeasurable honour of representing the Lord Lieutenant, and therefore Her Majesty, at the service of remembrance at Lichfield Cathedral. Services will be held throughout our county, from the Moorlands and Leek in the north, to Stoke-on-Trent, to Burton-on-Trent in the east, our county town of Stafford and Enville in the south.
Staffordshire is the home of the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, near Lichfield, which commemorates not only those who have fallen in so many military conflicts but those who sacrificed their lives in other tragic circumstances. The arboretum also serves as a memorial to the animals which suffered and gave their lives while supporting the military in conflict. I believe that in the course of the First World War over 1 million horses were killed.
In the county of Stafford, we remember the Prince of Wales’s regiment, the North Staffordshire Regiment, known to us as the Black Knots. Raised in 1758 as the 64th Regiment of Foot, and disbanded in 1959, when they amalgamated with the South Staffordshire regiment, they formed the Staffordshire Regiment. Known as the Staffords in those days, today they form part of the Mercian Regiment, who have had a distinguished fighting career.
Many of those who volunteered from my family’s former estates at Alton Towers and Ingestre, joined the North Staffords. Some of their names—far too many of them—are on the war memorials in Alton and the surrounding villages near where I live. I remember with particular fondness George Greatholder, my father’s head forester, who fought in the Battle of the Somme at age 16, and at Ypres—he called it “Wipers”—and won a military medal and bar. George was wounded, returned to the Front and eventually came home to Staffordshire. It was his task to look after me during the school holidays when I was a teenager, and I adored him and his wealth of stories. His stories were mainly about the countryside and wildlife, and I was enthralled by them. But there were never stories about his wartime experiences: those were far too horrible for him to recount.
The North Staffords saw action on the Western Front at Gallipoli, in the Middle East and in India. The South Staffords fought at Mons, Ypres, Loos, Delville Wood, Arras, Passchendaele—the list goes on and on. The sons and daughters of Staffordshire gave their all, and achieved the highest battle honours. They came from communities throughout the county: from the rural areas and agriculture; from the Moorlands; from the Potteries; from the breweries at Burton-on-Trent; from the Black Country and its industrial heartlands; and from the Staffordshire mining communities of Hednesford, Cannock and Rugeley, to name but a few. The miners were especially significant, because they were the sappers who dug the trenches and mined under the lines, very often working in appalling conditions.
When I was a teenager, my father took me to the military cemeteries in France on a regular basis. I continued that tradition with my children, and my friends and I still do it to this day. Last time, it was Ypres and the Menin Gate. We had tears running down our faces at the Menin Gate, at 8 pm on a Sunday. My father taught me to honour and respect the memories of the fallen, especially those from Staffordshire, and to remember that today we enjoy the freedoms and privileges which men and women—including those from Staffordshire, many of whom were connected to my family—gave their lives for. This is why we should hold all of them in the highest honour and esteem, and never allow their sacrifices to be forgotten.
My Lords, there was an interesting piece in the newspapers recently about the first bullet that was fired. The first bullet is supposed to have been fired at a German, by an African from Côte d’Ivoire. How did they find that out? This is what I want to know. How do they know it was the first bullet? If it was in Africa, and was fired by some poor man from Côte d’Ivoire, I do not even know whether he managed to kill the German. Anyway, it is amazing how they find these stories. I will not be talking about that, of course, but I thought it might amuse your Lordships.
I will start with the first group of Indians who came in the ships. As noble Lords will know, the BEF failed in Belgium and Britain did not seem to have a proper standing army, so the Indians started to arrive in ships. Some 150,000 of them came at that stage. It is sad that they did not have proper clothing. We were going into winter—we were not in winter yet, we were in autumn, but we were going into winter—and they did not have appropriate clothing. This seems to me to be a bad oversight, because these people had come from villages in India and were used to heat—not just warmth but heat. That was the first group of Indians who came.
Your Lordships probably also know that there were 9,000 combatants and 6,000 non-combatants. It is very interesting that not much has been written about the non-combatants, who were also in Europe in all the theatres of war, because they were needed in those places. Nothing has really been written about their work during the war. Non-combatants are important as well, as we know, and the Indians were in practically every theatre of the First World War.
I have just found out that the Indians who were at Gallipoli were not properly mentioned until the eve of the centenary. Everybody knew they were there but they were not mentioned in the records and the things that were written about Gallipoli. The story that I am trying to put before your Lordships is that Indians were there, but not in everybody’s thinking. Some of the later records did not focus properly on the Indians, because the people creating the records had the feeling that somehow they were inferior to the white British Army. Obviously this went on because it was a big part of the British Empire not to treat people from across it as equals—but when they were prepared to give up their lives they deserve to be treated as equals.
A noble Lord asked, “Why did they want to join up?”. They did so because they were encouraged by the Indian leadership. The noble Lord, Lord Gadhia, said that Gandhiji said they should join the Army and so on, and they did. But why did Gandhi and the Indian leadership say, “Join the Army”? The idea was that if India helped Britain win the war, it might get dominion status, which was the Indians’ biggest wish—or if not that, perhaps some more privileges to run India as they wanted to. As your Lordships know, that never came about, but the Indians were the biggest volunteer army at that time.
We have had a lot of commemorative World War I events during this time. We have said and done things and had those events and so on, but how are we actually to inform the young? If you stop people on the street now and ask them, “Do you know who was involved in World War I, apart from us?”, they might mention the Dominions, because they were kith and kin, but they never mention Indians. I do not think many people know that the Indians were there during World War I. To me, that is crucial. It is the one thing we have to put right, because it is important not only for the young of this country to know that but for the Indians who have come to live here. Young Indians should have something to be proud of, but they do not know about this. How do we inform the young on a large scale? We put it in the context of history. If we are teaching anything about World War I, it should mention the people who are not mentioned elsewhere. That is the most important lesson for this period. We should make sure that the young have a chance to find out about that, especially the young Indians—I mean those from a united India. Although it is four countries now, that is all right too: all those people should be able to know what their fathers and grandfathers did, and how they came to make up the largest volunteer army.
I have been involved in the Memorial Gates, which a couple of your Lordships have talked about. They are a memorial on Constitution Hill to Indians, Africans and West Indians. It took me about seven or eight years to get them up and I had a lot of problems. Sadly, I had no support at all from the Labour Government of the time. The support I got was a great help, but it would have been even better if the Government had wanted to see the memorial in place. The support came from the Royal Family: Prince Charles became our patron and the Queen came twice. I am very grateful because, without that, we would not have been able to raise the money. If you do not have somebody such as Prince Charles as patron, nobody gives you money—so it was difficult. Field Marshal Lord Inge raised a lot of money—I do not know whether your Lordships remember him—as did I. Between us we managed to raise enough to get the memorial up.
I will save the last few minutes for my father, who decided to join the Army and volunteered in the First World War. I am so old that I am probably the only one from a minority community who can say, “My father served in the First World War”. No one else will be old enough. My mother used to say that he decided to run away to war because he failed his exams and did not want his grandfather, who was quite a paterfamilias, to know. I do not think that many people run away to war; they run away from it, if possible. He served mostly in Mesopotamia. Gandhiji had said that the Indian students should help the war effort but that they should not kill, so my father was a stretcher bearer in an ambulance corps. Fortunately he came back, because otherwise I would not be here—but he would not talk about it.
Many noble Lords have said that their father or grandfather would not tell them anything about the war. I think that my father had a terrible time. He was spoilt and brought up in a comfortable family, and he really did not like being where he was. The only thing he told us was that he lived on tins of bully beef. As a Hindu, he would not eat beef—he never did afterwards—but he lived on bully beef during the war. Mesopotamia was a horrible place and it was a horrible time, but he survived. I am very proud of the fact that I can join noble Lords whose father or grandfather was in the first war—because I too had a father who volunteered for that war.
My Lords, it has been a rare privilege during the last four years to take part in so many important debates in this House as we have commemorated the heroism and sacrifice of those who fell in the Great War. In particular, it was a privilege to lead one on the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele and another commemorating the role of musicians, artists and poets who fell in the fighting—those special lives whose loss, in the words of Sir Hubert Parry, could never be made good.
It has also been my good fortune during these years to have been associated with the exemplary work of the Imperial War Museums, whose foundation I sit on and I declare an interest accordingly. In 2014, IWM London transformed its iconic atrium as part of a new, permanent First World War gallery, making use for the first time of the power of digital technology to engage new generations. This gallery is the richest and most comprehensive in the world, containing more than 1,300 objects, and in the first six months of opening it attracted an exceptional 1 million visitors—a figure which underlines the power of commemoration. Many millions more have visited since and taken part in some of the key events organised by the IWM, importantly including one on the vital role of women during the war. Its unique digital platform, “Lives of the First World War”, has engaged the public in a remarkable way by allowing them to contribute stories, building a digital memorial to the Great War. I hope that it helps those whom the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, talked about earlier as seeking a permanent memorial to their ancestors.
Throughout the centenary the IWM has also supported the work of 14-18 NOW, which has played its own energetic role in marking major national moments through the arts—not least through the memorable poppies tour, seen by over 4.3 million people. I pay a heartfelt tribute to both organisations and to the DCMS, which has so immaculately choreographed these last four years.
Today, as the commemorative events in this House draw to a close, I want to highlight a role played by a group which is so often overlooked but was absolutely vital to the waging of the conflict and to our ultimate victory. That is the animals who fought, were injured and died in the war, as my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury mentioned. Animals have been involved in warfare as long as men could ride a horse into battle or train a dog to attack, and they have served other purposes as well—as mascots to raise morale, and to provide companionship and comfort to those fighting. But the First World War presented the greatest challenge ever to face animals in the history of warfare, before or since, and that is why I want to remember them today.
The animals most profoundly affected were the horses that powered our cavalry. Remember that when the First World War broke out the entire British Army had just 80 motor vehicles. All other transportation of men, guns, ammunition, equipment, medicine, supplies and fuel relied on horse power and, with the mobilisation and expansion of the army, horses were required in unprecedented numbers. The British Expeditionary Force proceeded to France with 40,000 horses and mules, each one of which had to be hoisted aboard and into the holds of ships. Despite heroic efforts by the Army Veterinary Corps, for many the trauma of the journey was too much and many died during the crossing, in often terrible conditions.
Horses were then in action right from the opening shots of the war when, at Néry in France on 1 September 1914, every member of L Battery Royal Horse Artillery was either killed or wounded until the bitter end. The last cavalry charge of the war to end all wars was the charge of the 7th Dragoon Guards to capture the Dender crossings in Belgium as the clocks were striking 11 am on 11 November.
During those terrible years, horses did not just power the war, but provided vital companionship to our troops. As the author JM Brereton wrote in The Horse in War:
“On campaign, riding and reading the horse for months on end, sleeping in the open only a few yards behind the picket lines at night, and suffering the same privations, the soldier came to regard his horse as almost an extension of his entire being”.
During the war, more than a quarter of a million horses were lost on the Western Front alone. Only 58,000 were killed by enemy fire; the rest succumbed to exposure, disease and poison gas, despite the heroic efforts of the men in 1915 who, when that hideous gas first appeared, improvised gas masks for their beloved animals.
Both the Blue Cross and the RSPCA worked incredibly hard for animal welfare in every theatre of war, raising money at home to care for them and then tending to them at the front. These charities, which really came to public attention for the first time during the conflict, provided 180 horse ambulances, tented field hospitals, a convalescent depot and 13 hospitals in France to care for them. Some 2.6 million horses and mules were admitted to their care in France alone, an astonishing achievement. Then, as now, a great debt is owed to the charities that care so much for our animals.
Tragically, the Armistice did not always bring salvation for the horses that had served so valiantly. In many cases, they were destroyed rather than brought home. Perhaps worst of all was the fate that befell 20,000 war horses in Palestine. It was considered too expensive to bring them back here, and they were sold to Egypt where they were cruelly worked to death in quarries.
Of course, it was not just horses involved but other animals as well. In the desert campaign across the sands of the Middle East made famous by Lawrence of Arabia, camels were vital. During the heavy fighting on the advance to Jerusalem in the winter of 1917 alone, the British lost over 3,000 camels.
Important too was the role of dogs in the war. They performed an extraordinary number of military roles. As ambulance dogs, they sniffed out casualties on the battlefield when they were buried by debris. From 1916 they were increasingly used as messenger dogs and a special school to train them was formed at Shoeburyness in Essex. Some were sentry dogs, keeping guard duty on the horror of the Western Front. Others laid telephone wires and many served as mascots. Many of them, such as Pelorus Jack of the Royal Navy ship HMS “New Zealand”, also made good subjects for patriotic postcards, while others raised thousands of pounds for war charities. Bob at Liverpool, Prince at Crewe, and Cymro at Rhyl became well-known names.
Dogs were in high demand. Initially they came from homes in Battersea and elsewhere, but in time the War Office asked the public to send their dogs as gifts. In his excellent book on the subject, the historian Neil Storey records how one woman wrote a moving letter to accompany her dog when she sent it to war:
“I have given my husband and my sons, and now he too is required, I give you my dog”.
Our feathered friends, too, were brought into service. Canaries were used to detect poison gas but, most importantly, carrier pigeons were vital during the conflict in an age before any form of significant communication. The Emergency Pigeon Service was established to ensure a supply of pigeons to minesweepers, which were then able to send news about newly laid minefields to patrol boats. The same was true on the Western Front. During the Battle of Arras, two tanks with pigeons on board saw large bodies of Germans massing behind the hills. Within the hour, our artillery had received word of this via the pigeons and foiled the German counterattack.
Noble Lords would expect me to say a word or two about our feline friends, of course. Cats also played their part, not least in the rat-infested dugouts of the Western Front, where they did a great deal to keep down the rodent population. Often cats simply provided some companionship for our soldiers. Amid the death and despair of the front line, kittens and puppies helped to pierce the muddy gloom and were a welcome reminder of home. Cats, too, were popular mascots for ships in the Royal Navy. Many perished with their crew when ships went down, including Lyddite, the mascot on HMS “Shark” sunk in Jutland, and Togo, who went down with HMS “Irresistible” at the Dardanelles. Indeed, all animal life played its part in this terrible war.
Many of you will know or have visited the Animals in War Memorial in Park Lane, which was opened in 2004. It records the sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of animals of all kinds who fell alongside our troops. At the conclusion of the inscription, we read movingly these words, “They had no choice”.
As we commemorate the heroism and bravery of the gallant who fought and died so that we might be free, please let us remember those who stood by them, who worked with them, who comforted them, but who had no voice or name, then or now. Let us give them that voice today, as we remember them too at the Armistice.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, who introduced an interesting and thoughtful element to this debate that has not been covered before. In a briefing from the Royal British Legion, we are encouraged to give our own special thanks to the First World War generation, whether through family memories or through tributes to the heroism of people from our own part of the country. I would like to do both in my contribution. In honouring the dead, I would also like to honour those who survived but who, despite having served their country, had often to confront difficult circumstances—difficult economic circumstances, as well as, in many cases, the emotional, psychological and physical effects of that war.
My own family memory arises directly from my father, who was a veteran of the trenches near Ypres—“Wipers”, as he and his fellow soldiers called it. Like so many, he spoke little of his experiences there. As a child, I do not remember him ever talking about the First World War, although I do remember that he never ate baked beans, having had a surfeit of them in the trenches. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery under fire but, as someone who did not like fuss or ceremony, he preferred to receive his medal through the post rather than attending a ceremony in Buckingham Palace. Until my sister and I offered the medal for the exhibition of memorabilia in your Lordships’ House, it had not been seen in public and had not been worn, as the ribbon had not been attached.
My father won a scholarship to Cambridge in 1913, which was something the family was very proud of, but his academic career was brought to an end when he enlisted and joined the Cambridgeshire Regiment. There is an excellent book about the regiment written by Brigadier-General Riddell, who commanded it. He writes movingly about the heroism and camaraderie he encountered; I know now that comradeship was something that my father treasured. In the book, the author talks somewhat scathingly about some of the stupider decisions that were taken, which needlessly forfeited gains that had been made or which jeopardised men’s lives. He writes of one of the bravest men he ever knew, a lance-corporal by the name of Nightingale. I have not been able to find out whether Nightingale survived or whether he has descendants, but I know from the book that he helped to save my father’s life. It states that when my father and General Riddell had to run across a field of death, Nightingale turned himself into a veritable chimney by lighting cigarettes and so forth to distract the Germans and give cover to the two men as they ran. Reading about Nightingale, I was also struck by the class gulf between Tommies and officers. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said about members of the Indian Army not being able to get commissions. The gulf between the commissioned and the non-commissioned at home was also wide. Nightingale wanted a commission but never got one, yet if anyone deserved promotion to a senior level it was him.
As a result of the centenary of the war, many people have looked into their family history. History has come alive to them as a result, and many fascinating stories have been revealed. It has also made us remember contributions of individual men and women across the UK in our nations and regions. In this year when we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of some women getting the vote, I pay tribute to some of the amazing war heroines from my part of the world, the north-east, whose memory deserves to be highlighted. Their work should not be forgotten.
Kate Maxey was one of most highly decorated nurses. She was from Spennymoor in County Durham, and was sister in charge of a casualty clearing station in France. Even when injured in a bombing raid, she directed nurses, orderlies and stretcher bearers, thinking of herself last. At a time when there were only 600 registered women doctors in the UK, Dr Ruth Nicholson wanted to help in France but was turned down. Undeterred, she got involved with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Services and, with support from our Belgian and French allies, was able to establish the hospital in Royaumont in northern France. She saved many lives as a result. Sybil Grey, the great-granddaughter of Earl Grey of the Great Reform Act, trained as a nurse, ran services in her family’s home and then established and ran an Anglo-Russian hospital in Petrograd and later a field hospital near the Russian front. She treated many people in challenging circumstances, partly because of the high number of Russian casualties and partly because of the growing unrest that lead to the Russian revolution.
In this year when we are also remembering the work of suffragettes and suffragists, I shall mention other women from the north-east. Charlotte—Charlie—Marsh, a former hunger striker, was during the war the motor mechanic and chauffeuse to Prime Minister Lloyd George. This was ironic because she had been punished for throwing tiles at the Prime Minister’s car before the war as a suffragette, yet she worked in this important capacity during the war. Ruth Dodds from Gateshead worked as a munitionette. Her vivid diaries from this period are now used by schools in the north-east and elsewhere to learn about the dangerous but essential work that women did. These women and others were brave and heroic and deserve to be remembered.
In conclusion, I agree with my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, who today in the Huffington Post urged us to ensure that our acts of remembrance also make us think about the challenges of today. A number of noble Lords have mentioned this. He is right to remind us that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We must remember that as well as continuing to honour the heroes and heroines of yesterday.
My Lords, we have heard many fine speeches today, and I know there are many more to come. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, is not here and that we will miss his unique perspective. I wish him all the best in his battle. If anyone can prevail, he can.
This exceptional centenary year is an opportunity for us to express our gratitude to the entire World War I generation. They gave their lives to defend this country and to ensure that no hostile power could obtain control of the opposite coast of the English Channel and use it as a launch pad for an invasion of the British Isles.
My country of birth was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. My ancestors served it. I spent my formative years in Sarajevo, the city where the first bullet of the First World War was fired when Archduke Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated. As a child, I used to visit the Gavrilo Princip bridge and walk in the footsteps of the assassin, blissfully unaware of the calamity that his actions unleashed upon our continent.
Whichever side our great-grandfathers and grandfathers were on, we were united at the Paris peace conference by the reality of what the Great War left behind. The four great empires that exercised power and authority prior to 1914—Habsburg Austro-Hungary, Romanov Russia, Ottoman Turkey and Hohenzollern Germany—had disappeared or simply expired. The total direct cost of the war was estimated at $180 billion. Most devastating of all was the human cost of the war. Ten million lives were lost, and 20 million people sustained war-related injuries. By weakening so many human frames, the war opened the door to the Spanish flu epidemic, which killed a further 20 million people across the continent, reminding us that the harms of war last for decades. Tragically, all the sacrifice and suffering was not enough. The war to end all wars did not deliver. The carnage was repeated in just over 30 years, this time on an industrial scale, underpinned by the ideologies of red and black totalitarian societies, the abhorrent concept of a racial state and mass extermination camps stretching from Poland to Siberia.
As we pay tribute to those in whose blood that history was written, and as memories of both world wars fade with time, I am deeply worried that we have become forgetful of our history and reckless with our democracy. I fear that we now at times take for granted the unbroken peace that most European countries have enjoyed for more than 70 years, that we have allowed our moral radar to weaken, and that our ability to recognise what is acceptable or not has diminished. I have been shocked, as I am sure many of your Lordships have been, by some of the tone of the public debate in the handling our relationship with our European neighbours. Whatever our views, it is our duty to behave in a way that corresponds to the sacrifices made in the two world wars. This is not some romantic idea of everyone having to get along, but a matter of basic civility between nations and a reflection of the critical importance of a stable, democratic and peaceful continent, the very reason so many men and women fought and died in the two world wars.
As someone recently remarked, xenophobia has become almost acceptable, respectable and even admirable. While some may feel better throwing around disparaging comments and rude remarks, let us not forget that each time they do, and each time we pretend not to hear, rhetoric is a step closer to actions—unacceptable aggressive actions. Democracies are not immune to violence just because they are democracies. They have to be protected and nurtured. Sometimes they have to be fought for. However much we pride ourselves on our values, our history and the strength of our institutions, there is a short step between rhetoric and violent loss of life. Let us remember today the Member of Parliament the late Jo Cox, who was killed for standing up for the voiceless, and the 11 Jewish worshippers so recently killed in cold blood in America only for being Jews. We must always be vigilant and protect what has been built in blood and on lives sacrificed. I feel this keenly as I reflect that I, a great-granddaughter of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and you, the descendants of those who died to defend Great Britain, can today sit in the same Chamber.
Britain is an extraordinary and exceptional country. It stood on the right side of history in World War I, World War II and the Cold War. It is the country whose moral core was never corroded by Nazism or fascism. It is the country that has stood by those who needed protection. It is therefore worrying when the rhetoric of populism, which has never suited British core values, starts rearing its head. It is then that we must remember those who died for higher ideals. I therefore hope that as we mark the centenary of World War I we not only remember the generations who died but think of future generations and reflect on what we ourselves are going to leave behind, as there is no greater gift than security, no greater insurance policy than stability and no greater legacy than peace.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow such a compellingly argued and inspiring speech from the noble Baroness.
I have more family stories for your Lordships. I am here, I exist, only because both my grandfathers survived the First World War. My paternal grandfather, William, born into a Liverpool Catholic family, was an athlete: he played football as a schoolboy for the north of England, and as a boxer he sparred with Bombardier Billy Wells. William served at the front in the Royal Horse Artillery, losing a toe during the years of conflict.
My maternal grandfather, Joe, was born in Belfast to fierce loyalist stock. Aged 18, he joined Carson’s UVF and trained with guns smuggled in from Germany. At the onset of war my grandad joined the 15th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles, a Protestant force that marched with marigolds in their caps to the tunes of King Billy. Joe fought on the front line and in the trenches, miraculously surviving for the span of the war. He was in the Battle of the Somme where, as we know, 50,000 were killed or wounded on the first day. At Thiepval, the 36th (Ulster) Division lost 5,500 men in two days. Whole areas of Ulster were plunged into grief. Joe went on to fight on the Messines Ridge, at Cambrai and at St Quentin, where he was captured, and saw out the war as a German prisoner.
I can never be sure what price my two grandfathers paid for their exposure to four years of the utmost horror. My paternal grandfather, William, was bright but quick to pick a fight; he rose in the war to sergeant, but was discharged as a private. He would become an alcoholic, a mainly unemployed Bootle docker. The NSPCC would be called in to consider the welfare of my father and his siblings.
My maternal grandfather, Joe, could be cruel to his daughters too, but he was mostly quiet and introspective, though he took me, his first grandchild, under his wing and talked to me endlessly and chillingly about his war and his grim experiences, taking solace only in his racing pigeons and his pride in once having sold a Jack Russell terrier to Gracie Fields. There was one benevolent consequence of Joe’s war. By 1917, so many soldiers from the Ulster Division had been killed that Catholics were finally drafted in to make up the numbers. Unexpectedly, the camaraderie of battle softened attitudes, and a year later St Patrick’s Day was celebrated in the trenches and shamrocks widely distributed. When my Protestant mother declared that she was to marry my Catholic father, my mum was ostracised by her fierce loyalist mother but Joe, the one-time member of the UVF, had lost his sectarian impulse on the fields of Flanders, and peace was soon restored to the family.
I have visited the battlegrounds on which my grandfathers fought. I have stood in empty, flat green fields with the birds singing, not a soul to be seen, the ground around still bearing the scars of trenches, and I have listened to friends reading out loud some of the eloquent and poetic first-person accounts of battles long fought, involving massive loss of life, in precisely the place where we were standing. How could humankind have possibly managed to create and continue such fruitless slaughter? John Keegan, at the end of his masterpiece history of the First World War, describes it as a mystery:
“Why did a prosperous continent, at the height of its success as a source and agent of global wealth and power and at one of the peaks of its intellectual and cultural achievement, choose to risk all it had won for itself and all it offered to the world in the lottery of a vicious and local internecine conflict?”.
Some 1 million British, 1.7 million French, 2 million Germans and many others lost their lives in the Great War, yet the First World War was unfinished business. Only two decades later it seeded the Second World War, with even greater horror—a fivefold increase in loss of life. No one has expressed that better today than the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup.
So far, the post-war embryonic alliances that eventually grew into the European Union have succeeded in locking most of the countries of mainland Europe into a secure, harmonious and prosperous peace. The single most poignant post-war image for me is President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl standing together at Verdun in 1984, side by side and hand-in-hand. Even without us, may those European bonds remain forever strong and may catastrophic war never again blight our continent.
My Lords, I also convey my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, for today’s debate.
Visiting our ancestral village in early childhood, I came to know that nearly every house had one or two male members in the army. Sadly, some of them never returned. It is a hilly area of Punjab with very small land holdings, and the only occupation was joining the army. They were professional soldiers and took pride in their profession. Many were recognised for their outstanding service and bravery.
When the Empire went to war with Germany in August 1914, its only fully trained and battle-worthy reserves immediately available to deploy in support of the British Expeditionary Force were the regular soldiers of the Indian Army. In addition to them, the military authorities were also able to withdraw almost all the regular British battalions from India for service in Europe. Only nine regular British battalions were retained in the country to keep a watch on the perennially problematic North-West Frontier and Afghanistan, whose intentions could be altered by a change in ruler—as was to happen, but not until 1919.
The British Expeditionary Force that crossed over to France in August 1914 was initially fewer than 90,000, which, with their French allies, faced the German spear-head of 320,000 strong. In all, Germany had an attacking force of about 1.5 million. All sides suffered severely in the bitter fighting that followed. By the end of the battle of Ypres in November, the effect of the fighting may be judged by the fact that the 7th Division, which had entered Belgium on 6 October almost 18,000 strong, had by 5 November been reduced to less than one-third of its inventory. It was this hard reality that made the resources of the Indian Army so vital. When it landed in Europe, not only was the Indian Army not well equipped, it was also unfamiliar with the terrain, the climate of northern Europe and trench warfare. It is remarkable how it coped.
The Indian Army had some 14,000 infantry and 1,700 cavalry. The Germans had launched 12 and a half divisions into what was to become the First Battle of Ypres. Its purpose was to capture the channel ports that were basic to the British war effort and the very security of the British mainland. It was a battle like no other. By the end, the BEF had virtually ceased to exist, losing some 50,000 men. The troops of the Indian Corps replaced 32,000 men of the BEF’s II Corps. The fighting that followed was marked by acts of individual bravery of the highest honour.
In the course of the war, 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded to Indian and Nepalese soldiers, as well as countless other bravery awards. One example from 1914 is Darwan Singh Negi, a non-commissioned officer of the 1st Battalion, 39th Garhwal Rifles, who was awarded the Victoria Cross. The desperate nature of the fighting may be judged by the fact that in the same action the battalion earned 16 other medals. By the battle’s end, the corps had lost some 2,000 men, who were killed and missing, and 4,000 were wounded. At enormous sacrifice, the hard-pressed forces of the Indian Army and their comrades of the BEF had thwarted what the German high command had hoped would be a decisive victory. Without the sacrifice of the Indian soldiers, the outcome of these battles in 1914 could have been different. Neither formation would ever fully recover from the ordeal.
In the course of 1915, the British Army, which by July had grown into 21 divisions, was engaged in a series of bitter but inconclusive battles. By October l915, the corps’ casualty list of killed, missing, and wounded amounted to over 21,000. Of the 47th Sikhs, only 28 men and no officers remained. Indian soldiers fought on various fronts: Mesopotamia, Gallipoli and Haifa.
In 1916, the Middle East had become the Indian Army’s principal theatre of operations. Given the scale of their losses at the Somme in 1916, Passchendaele in 1917, and in the great German offensive of spring 1918, the British had little enough to spare for the war in the Middle East. The campaign that took Baghdad on 11 March 1917 and then advanced to Mosul and Kirkuk would not have been feasible without Indian troops. So, too, Sir Edmund Allenby’s victorious advance in Palestine and Syria in 1918 depended in large part on the 54 infantry battalions and the 13 cavalry squadrons shipped from India to replace British troops that had to be sent to the Western Front.
By the war’s end, some 1.5 million had volunteered for the Indian Army; over 74,000 of them were not to return from service. We have not even touched on the material side of India’s contribution to the Empire’s war efforts. That contribution was truly remarkable. As the noble Lord, Lord Gadhia, already mentioned, Mahatma Gandhi, the great leader of India’s freedom struggle, who was in London in August 1914, set about organising an Indian ambulance corps. The rulers of princely states were generous in their support. Ganga Singh, Maharaja of Bikaner, and Bhupinder Singh, Maharaja of Patiala, both sailed for Europe. The latter raised 17,000 men from his state, visited a number of fighting fronts and, by the war’s end, was an honorary major-general.
Now that we are commemorating the centenary of the Armistice, we should also remember the unsurpassed sacrifice to the war effort from the Indian sub-continent, in both the First World War and the Second World War. The monthly salary of an Indian soldier was just 15 rupees—about one guinea. They left their homes and travelled to all parts of Europe, the Middle East and Africa to fight for the Empire for very little. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I and World War II is estimated to be 100 million. Think seriously: it is a horrendous number of people, affecting many more families.
What have we learned from this most deadly chapter in human history? Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and other preachers of peace have come and gone. We are still living in a very dangerous world where there are too many trigger-happy Governments and individuals, ready to fight rather than sit down together to talk and listen. Commemorating Armistice Day and remembering the millions who died in these wars, we should work together to build a peaceful world.
My Lords, we are now almost at the end of this commemorative journey. I start by saying how proud I have been to serve on the Government’s World War I advisory board, along with other speakers in this debate. At meeting after meeting, I have been impressed by the diversity and dignity of the events that have been organised in all parts of the United Kingdom, in Ireland, and in France and Belgium. Others have spoken of the brilliance of the DCMS team, and I pay particular tribute to David Thompson and Jennifer Shaw for keeping the show on the road so brilliantly.
In preparing for today, I looked back at what was said in your Lordships’ House in June 2014, on the eve of the centenary of the start of the conflict. I commented in that debate that a great deal of preparation had been put in place and hoped that it would capture the imagination of as many people as possible. I also, perhaps slightly prematurely, paid tribute to the work of Dr Andrew Murrison MP, the Prime Minister’s special representative for the centenary commemoration, and I am delighted to be able to do so again, four years on, as have other speakers in this debate. Since the summer of 2011, there have been no fewer than seven Secretaries of State at the head of DCMS but, fortunately, there has been only one Dr Murrison. It is greatly to his credit that the tone and content of the commemoration programme has been correctly nuanced. It would have been so easy to get this wrong, but that has not happened. The theme of commemoration not celebration is right, as is the determination to combine the traditional act of remembrance with new initiatives to engage as much of the population as possible, especially young people. In such a fractured and divided world, it is great that the commemoration programme has succeeded in bringing us together—members of all races and ethnic groups, young and old particularly.
My involvement in the commemoration came about almost by accident. Towards the end of 2001, when I was still a relatively new Member here, I received a letter from a Belgian senator who warned me that the Flanders Government planned to extend the A19 motorway across Pilckem Ridge, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in the Ypres Salient—a road which would have cut the battlefield in two. I was sufficiently intrigued by this to pay a visit to Pilckem Ridge during that Christmas Recess. I found that it remained largely untouched by development.
Pre-1915 photographs show the same farm buildings and the same field layout. The landscape has acquired more than a dozen Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries, places of peace and tranquillity, visited by more than 150,000 people from the United Kingdom every year. It was where John McCrae, sitting in the back of a field ambulance close to what became the Essex Farm Cemetery, wrote “In Flanders Fields”, quoted by my noble friend Lady Crawley so movingly earlier. Below the fields of Pilckem Ridge, outside the cemetery, lie the remains of countless soldiers—perhaps as many as 200,000. The undeveloped farming area provides a peaceful last resting place for them, although fresh remains are found every time the fields are ploughed.
When I returned to the UK, I tabled an Oral Question in this House which led to many Members saying that they wanted to support the campaign to stop the motorway and preserve the Pilckem Ridge battlefield. As a result, we established the All-Party Parliamentary War Heritage Group, which continues to this day, with the remit of promoting and supporting the protection, conservation and interpretation of war graves, war memorials and battlefield sites. Two distinguished academics—Peter Barton and Professor Peter Doyle—volunteered to become involved having heard about my visit to Ypres, and Professor Doyle is still the group’s secretary. I continue to serve as co-chair, alongside Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP, a fellow member of the Government’s World War I advisory board.
As a group, we engaged with the Flanders Government and, to their great credit, they abandoned the plans for the motorway extension. Now, each year, they organise impressive commemoration events around 11 November. This year, for example, they are having as their 15th “Flanders Remembers” event a concert in St Paul’s Cathedral on 8 November.
So much has been going on in the past four years that it is impossible in a single speech to cover more than a few examples. I hope, therefore, that the House will allow me to concentrate on just two areas where I have some personal involvement.
The first is the Worcestershire World War 100 programme. This is a partnership led by the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service under the inspired leadership of Dr Adrian Gregson, deputy leader of Worcester City Council, and directed from The Hive, Europe’s first joint university and public library. The 2011 to 2019 programme includes council and independent museums, archives, the university, the cathedral, regimental associations, Army museums, trusts, local libraries, charities, the Western Front Association, the Royal British Legion and armed services’ benevolent funds. The project cost was £674,000, which attracted a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £353,000.
Examples of what has been done include a people’s collection—material loaned or deposited and collected by local people in towns all over the county. The World War I bell tent has had 40 outings at shows, weekend events, schools, libraries and community groups—including in urban and rural schools in more deprived areas and with local ethnic communities—with re-enactors and other activities including poetry and poppy making. There have been displays marking specific centenary events involving Worcestershire regiments—such as the battles of Gheluvelt, Gallipoli, Qatia, Passchendaele and the spring offensive—plus longer-term exhibitions on the theme of “Back in Blighty” and the paintings of Benjamin Williams Leader.
The programme has organised heritage trails and exhibitions on the lives of Worcestershire’s very own Vesta Tilley and Studdert Kennedy—Woodbine Willie—as well as a war memorials bike ride. The “Fields of Battle: Lands of Peace” outdoor photographic exhibition by Mike Shiel, which many of your Lordships may have seen elsewhere, has been seen by 400,000 people. The South Eastern and Chatham Railway carriage which brought back the bodies of Edith Cavell and the unknown warrior came to the Severn Valley Railway on loan this summer. I should declare an interest as president of the Heritage Railway Association. Worcester will play its part in the Victoria Cross paving stone programme and is organising a military parade of the Mercian Regiment in honour of Fred Dancox VC.
The story is the same the length and breadth of the country. There has scarcely been a town or village which has not held its own commemoration. In my last few seconds, I pay a special tribute to the International Guild of Battlefield Guides; I have the honour to be its patron. It advises me that 1,800 schools have taken part in the battlefield tours programme and 6,500 teachers and students have been on a battlefield tour, many guided by guild members. They bring the former battlefields to life for the teachers and students. Guild guides have also played a key role in special school tours which commemorated a range of battles, including Loos, the Somme, Arras, Vimy Ridge, third Ypres and the spring offensive. The international programme was part of the Amiens 100 commemorations.
The evidence across the battlefield guiding industry is that bookings for 2019 are higher this year than was evident 12 months ago. That is interesting, and flies in the face of the accepted wisdom that the end of the centenary would mean a huge fall in battlefield tourism, and perhaps in remembrance. That is not so, and numbers are higher due to a wider percentage of the UK population being aware of the Western Front battlefields as a result of the centenary and the successful way in which it is being commemorated. That is a really positive legacy.
My Lords, we all know that this year marks the centenary of the First World War Armistice. The centenary reminds us of the pivotal role that our Armed Forces have played in shaping our country’s history. This was a conflict that resulted in suffering on an unprecedented scale.
I pay tribute to the contribution of Muslims during the First World War. The significant part played in the First World War by Muslims is not widely acknowledged and has been historically undervalued. Efforts must be made to redress that. I hope that today’s debate will inform others and help to address this imbalance.
At least 2.5 million Muslim soldiers and labourers from all over the world fought with the allied forces with dignity and honour. They came from many different countries, including Algeria, Canada, China, Egypt, France, India, Morocco, Russia, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Tunisia and the United States. A million soldiers and labourers came from Egypt, 80,000 soldiers came from Tunisia, 63,000 soldiers came from Morocco, 173,000 soldiers came from Algeria and 5,000 soldiers came from the United States. In fact, 10% of the Russian army’s total strength was Muslim, about 1.5 million soldiers.
Muslims were recognised with decorations for their bravery and valour in combat during the First World War. The Légion d’honneur was awarded to the Moroccan Division. During the Battle of the Marne, these brave soldiers were successful in halting the German troops’ advance on Paris. This incredible feat was called the miracle on the Marne. However, only 800 of the 4,000 Moroccan soldiers survived the battle. Furthermore, in British West Africa, 30% of African Distinguished Conduct Medals awarded to those who served were given to Nigerian Muslims who fought in Cameroon.
Muslim contributions were not only confined to military activities. Muslims also served in army nursing units, and in fact the Hui—the Chinese Muslims— were a substantial part of the Chinese labour force in Europe, on the eastern front, in Africa and in Mesopotamia.
Muslim soldiers shared their food with locals who were suffering from the famine in Europe. Prophet Muhammad—peace be upon him—and Caliph Abu Bakr laid down clear rules of engagement in warfare. One of the tenets in Islam is that Muslims should treat enemy soldiers with respect and look after them. In view of this belief, Muslim soldiers asked their officers to ensure that captured prisoners of war be taken to a place that had been prepared for them, and that they be properly fed and not harmed or tortured. Muslim soldiers felt that prisoners of war should be treated with mercy and kindness. Furthermore, Muslims shared their native traditional medical knowledge with nurses and doctors who had run out of medical supplies at the battlefront.
I turn now to Muslims from India. Although I was born in east Africa, I have Indian heritage. My grandfather joined the British Indian Army and fought in Palestine. This subject, therefore, is of personal interest to me. India raised the world’s largest volunteer army, with a total of 1.5 million soldiers during the First World War. This was greater than the combined total of all volunteers from Scotland, Wales and Ireland. There were 400,000 Muslims from India who were part of the British Volunteer Army. They fought out of love and loyalty to the King-Emperor and the Empire. They felt honour in fighting for their King, and it was this sense of loyalty and dedication that endeared them to many of their British comrades.
The First World War marked the first time that Muslim soldiers ever fought on European ground. They were originally called upon for help when British forces were suffering heavy casualties. This demonstrates just how historically important their role was. There were seven Indian Expeditionary Forces that included Muslims and they provided crucial support, fighting directly alongside British forces in Europe. In fact, at the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle, they provided half the attacking force. A British general described them as a magnificent body that performed the most useful and valuable service.
The Indian forces also saw action in east Africa, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Gallipoli and Palestine. More than 74,000 Indian troops, including Muslims, were killed or declared missing in action during the First World War, a number that is testament to the level of sacrifice and loyalty shown by the Indians in supporting the allied forces. Indian troops were awarded 13,000 medals for gallantry, including 11 Victoria Crosses. Sepoy Khudadad Khan was the first non-white person to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry in the face of overwhelming numbers. He was a Muslim who came from a place called Chakwal in present-day Pakistan. He served in the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis regiment. He fought in Belgium in 1914 and single-handedly kept German forces at bay in the Battle of Ypres after all his comrades had been killed, right up to the point where his position was overrun. It is thought that his actions helped to ensure that two vital ports used to supply British troops remained in allied hands. Two other Muslims were awarded the Victoria Cross: Mir Dast and Shahamad Khan. Such stories are significant as they personalise the efforts of Muslims in the armed forces, allowing us to see beyond statistics and into the hearts of these brave soldiers.
A number of Muslims who died as a result of injuries sustained in action in the First World War were buried on Horsell Common in Woking. The Muslim soldiers were able to prove that it was possible to be loyal both to their faith and to a country simultaneously. For many Muslims, religious observances were crucial for coping with the hardships and challenges on the battlefront.
I also pay tribute to other Indian soldiers in the British Army who were Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian and from other religions. As mentioned earlier, there were 1.5 million soldiers from undivided India. We should never forget their contribution. The union jack meant a lot to them and a number of them paid the ultimate price. Will the Minister comment on the contribution of Muslims during the First World War? Last week I arranged a meeting in the House of Lords to discuss that contribution, which was attended by several parliamentarians, including my noble friend Lord Lexden. The event created a great deal of interest and was very much oversubscribed.
My Lords, perhaps one good way to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War is to identify the main lessons from that appalling catastrophe that still have relevance and resonance today, and to commit ourselves to a renewed effort to apply those lessons which, I fear—as my remarks will show, I hope—we are not doing all that successfully. So here is a short list, although by no means an exhaustive one.
It certainly was not the war to end all wars. We surely do now need to put more resources and more political backing into conflict prevention, principally though not exclusively through the United Nations. We should encourage the UN Secretary-General to make more use of Article 99 of the charter, which enables him, on his own initiative, to bring threats to peace and security before the Security Council. We should bolster his conflict-prevention capacity. We should also be more active ourselves in both conflict prevention and in trying to bring conflicts to an end—and there I would mention the case of Yemen, which is very much a case in point.
Secondly, 1918 saw a great surge in demand to hang the Kaiser—probably not the best way to proceed if, like me, you are opposed to capital punishment. It reminds us, however, of the need to have a genuinely effective means of bringing to account those who initiate wars of aggression and those who commit war crimes. That means standing up firmly against the quite disgraceful speech recently made by the US National Security Advisor, John Bolton, attacking the International Criminal Court. We need to do everything we can to make that court effective.
The third lesson is the responsibility of uncontrolled arms races in creating the conditions for war. Obviously, in the case of the First World War the clearest example was the naval arms race between Britain and Germany. That was of course an age before nuclear weapons and the intercontinental ballistic missiles to deliver them. But we need to recognise that we live today in an age when arms races do still pose a risk. Just look at the naval arms race that is going on in the Far East at the moment. This is a moment, too, when even the rather inadequate international agreements on arms control are beginning to atrophy; the most recent example, of course, being the US decision to announce its intention to withdraw from the INF. We surely need to try to reverse that trend.
Fourthly, it may be that in 1918 it was recognised that some categories of weapon were just too horrendous to tolerate. That led to the worldwide ban on the use of poison gas in 1925. But we have to realise now—and we do realise—that the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which was the implementation of that commitment in 1925, are being flouted in Syria and, of course, closer to home, in Salisbury.
Fifthly, perhaps the most important lesson to draw from 1918 was that the world could not afford to rely on informal co-operation between the great powers of the day, whoever they might be—the so-called Concert of Europe—to prevent conflicts breaking out. That realisation led to the foundation of the League of Nations, which of course proved unable to fulfil its purpose; and then, after the Second World War, it led to the foundation of the United Nations. Today we have a President of the United States, in contrast to Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, who can see no use for the UN and little benefit from the collective security it and NATO are set up to provide. That is a pretty sobering prospect, and so surely, as a nation which supports a rules-based international order, we need to get together with other like-minded countries to resist that trend. Of course, it is difficult to describe leaving the European Union, which has done so much to heal the wounds from 1918 and 1945, as a step in the right direction.
Finally, and sixthly, there was one lesson which perhaps we have done a bit more to learn. One hundred years ago marked the apogee of a world influenza pandemic, wrongly known as Spanish influenza, which killed more people worldwide than the war itself, many of them weakened by the privations of war. Since then we have got a little better at dealing with that sort of global pandemic—just a bit better, but remember that we did not do terribly well with Ebola the first time it broke out, and are we absolutely sure that we would do better if we were assailed by another pandemic?
So there are six either unlearned or at least imperfectly learned lessons, all of them originating from 1918—quite a challenge if the world is not to fall into some of the same horrors it fell into then.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who indeed points out some extremely important lessons.
Along with my noble and indefatigable friend the Minister, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, I have heard every single speech of this remarkable debate. I will begin by adding my tribute to another tireless person, who does not even have a seat, and say how much we all appreciate what Dr Murrison has done over the last four years.
Forty-eight hours ago I was sitting in Lincoln Cathedral. It was probably the largest choir ever assembled there, with choral societies from all over Lincolnshire, together with the cathedral’s own choir: over 400 singers and two orchestras had come to take part in Britten’s “War Requiem”. It was an intensely moving evening. They very cleverly projected on to one of those soaring Purbeck marble columns at the end of our glorious nave the names of Lincolnshire men who had died in the First World War. It was moving, too, when at the end—as happens, and as will doubtless happen at the Albert Hall on Saturday night—poppies came drifting down. As I sat there, various thoughts came to mind. I thought of my mother, who had no brothers but had six male cousins, five of whom perished in the First World War. My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury referred in his speech to Staffordshire, which was my adopted county for over 40 years. I had the honour to represent a Staffordshire constituency in the other place, and I was churchwarden in Enville, the little village in the south to which he referred. I had to take part in the service, either there or in the neighbouring village of Kinver, every Remembrance Sunday, where the list was read out: something like 45 or 50 names from Enville and Kinver, these two small Staffordshire villages. It was an extraordinary cataclysm. It has not been mentioned today but it brought crashing down four empires: the empire of the Kaiser, the empire of the Tsar, the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, referred in a particularly moving and apposite speech.
It is crucial that we remember sacrifice, but remembrance is hollow unless it is accompanied by a determination that this should not happen again. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, made an important speech at the beginning of this debate when he said, in effect, that 21 years later we were at it again—in 1939, the year of my birth. I was born just a few months before the outbreak of that war in which my father served throughout. The continent that was torn apart between 1618 and 1648 in the ghastly Thirty Years War, and torn apart and dismembered from 1914 to 1918, was again torn apart in the Second World War. It must not happen again.
We did better after the Second World War, with the founding of NATO and—I make no apology for saying it—the founding of the European Union. Full of imperfections as any human institution is, it did so much, first through the Coal and Steel Community, to bring together those who had in some cases been enemies for centuries. We were late in on the act, but we are a European power. We prevented the hegemony of France in the early 18th century with the treaty of Utrecht. We prevented it again just 100 years later; we can go into the Royal Gallery and see that wonderful picture of Wellington on the field of Waterloo. We prevented it again—with wonderful allies to whom there has been much and proper reference during the course of this debate—in 1918; and again in 1945, when some of the most stirring rhetoric of the war came from the Dispatch Box in this Chamber, because the Commons met in here for most of the war. It was from that Dispatch Box that Churchill delivered most of his great wartime speeches.
When we came together to join the European Union, we were already a founding and leading member of NATO. We have done much to play a leading part, looked up to by the Baltic states, Finland and some of the smaller countries as a leader. They are distraught that we are leaving, but we are. The moral of this is not to refight the referendum; I do not want a second referendum. The moral is to say that it is incumbent upon us to forge the strongest possible links with our friends, allies and neighbours in Europe in the years to come. We also have to remember that there are threats as yet unspoken of in this debate, or potential threats.
I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Balfe when he talks about Russia. He is right. It may not be the most attractive regime, but let us think back to the days of what Reagan called the “evil empire”. Let us remember also that in Muslim extremism and terrorism we have a common foe, which is not to gainsay any of the positive remarks made about Muslims a few minutes ago. We have got to be together.
We have also got to remember one other thing that has not been mentioned at all in this debate: the Second World War, which we shall be commemorating on Sunday too, was also fought in the Far East.
“For their tomorrow, we gave our today”.
Those words will be read out. I want us to have the most positive commercial and other friendships that we can with China. But let us not forget, that is a dominant power. It will be the most powerful nation in the world by the middle of this century. It has already created for itself the semblance of an empire in Africa. We have got to be prepared and be aware that our defence policy is crucial, our defence expenditure is vital and our vigilance is utterly necessary—because if we are not aware of that, we shall be letting down the people we were thinking of in Lincoln Cathedral 48 hours ago, during that Great War requiem.
My Lords, I am most grateful to your Lordships for permitting me to speak in the gap. The Minister made a most impressive introductory speech to this debate. He referred to the participation of the two Irish divisions at the battle of Messines in 1917. I can add another significant fact: alongside those two Irish divisions were an Australian division and a New Zealand one. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, referred to the famous 36th (Ulster) Division, but the 16th Division, from the south of Ireland, was staffed entirely from the south into the five regiments from southern Ireland, which were disbanded in 1922.
I was interested to hear about the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, with his Irish forebears; but returning Irish servicemen from the British Army had to be totally concealed within their family. They were treated like black sheep and could never be referred to. There is distressing evidence that has come to light that there were several murders of men who had been identified as having served in the British Army. That lasted right through the Second World War, but then came the remarkable transformation of the British-Irish relationship. There were the significant contributions by the two presidents to the peace process; then the Belfast agreement; the visit of Her Majesty the Queen to Dublin; and the visit by President Higgins to London, where he found time to inspect the laid-up colours of the five regiments in St George’s Chapel.
I am a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. Four years ago, it was the UK’s turn to host the meeting. We met in Ashford in Kent and took coaches through to the Ypres battlefields. There are a remarkable number of Irish memorials, even in that smaller bit of the Western Front, in addition of course to the cemeteries. Our Irish colleagues were really impressed by all these, because the graves had not been visited for a century in the vast majority of cases, either by their compatriots or, indeed, by their families. In the Tyne Cot Cemetery, which I think is the largest cemetery of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission—that remarkable organisation—I came across the grave of an Irish soldier of the Great War, known only to God. One can speculate that it might well have been a crucifix which was the only identifying object—but that may be. My Irish friend was in tears. That is the legacy which we now enjoy within British-Irish relations, and we can pay proper tribute to 30,000 deaths, more or less distributed between those two Irish divisions, and acknowledge the contribution that Ireland made to the Great War.
My Lords, with your Lordships’ permission, I will speak for a few seconds only. My father was born in 1894, so he was just old enough to serve in the First World War, which he did—first in the Devonshire Yeomanry, then in the South Wales Borderers, and finally in the Royal Flying Corps. All I need to say is that he was there.
My Lords, 1 was the youngest child of a late family. My father reached 18 in 1917 and went out in a reinforcement draft to the Highland Division in March 1918, just as the last great German attack was launched. When at last, in his mid-80s, he began to talk about his experiences, he told me that at one point he was second in command of the remnants of his battalion as a sergeant, with only one officer left.
I want to focus on how well we have commemorated the centenary of the first global war, and what lessons we should take from this for the approach to future commemorations, including those for the centenary of the Second World War in 20 years’ time. Like the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, I have been on the Government’s advisory group for the commemoration of World War One. I saw the early exchanges in Whitehall about the approach to take and I was the first British Minister to talk to the German Foreign Office about how we might work with it to remember together.
As we all know, history is a constant battle over preferred narratives. As a nation, we British are deeply divided and confused about which historical narratives we prefer. I recall seeing an early memorandum to the then Prime Minister in 2012 which stated that, in our approach to the commemoration of World War I, we should ensure that we did not give support to the myth that European integration was the outcome of the two world wars. The Government’s stated purposes in their approach to the commemoration of the centenary were youth and education. We achieved that aim in engaging our younger generations to discover the histories of their local communities in war and the impact of the loss of life on families throughout Britain. We have done very well in symbolising reconciliation with Germany, from the shared events in St Symphorien cemetery, the shared concert with the Bundestag choir and the participation of President Steinmeier in the ceremonies of next weekend.
However, we have failed in educating our younger generation about the wider context of the war and the extent to which British forces depended on the contribution of allies and imperial troops. We have not embarked on the exercise which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, so eloquently called for. I recall entering a book shop in the Yorkshire Dales two or three years ago—as well stocked with volumes on the two world wars as on steam trains and Yorkshire traditions—to find the owner arguing with a visitor about Brexit. He was saying: “After all, we beat the Germans in two world wars and now they are telling us what to do”. That echoes one of the widely held myths of British history, propounded by Margaret Thatcher among others, that Britain stood alone in two world wars to defend freedom against tyranny when others had given up the fight. I tentatively suggested that we had had a lot of help from others in both wars, most of all from the Americans. I was told that, so far as he knew, the Americans had not taken part in World War 1.
It is not that surprising that few Britons appreciate the importance of the American contribution. In spite of proposals that we should make a major event of the US entry into the war, the only significant commemorative event took place on the Scottish island of Islay earlier this year, beyond the reach of major news programmes. It marked the wreck of two US transports as they approached the Clyde: important, but not helping our younger generation to understand just how vital the USA was to the achievement of victory after four exhausting years of a war of attrition.
In contrast to the welcome gestures of reconciliation to our former German enemies, we have neglected the contributions of our allies and imperial forces. We held a small ceremony by the statue of Marshal Foch in London last April, to mark the point at which British forces came under his overall command, with a Guards band and the participation of two French soldiers from Foch’s former regiment. We have not recalled that elements of the Belgian army held part of the Ypres salient throughout the First World War, using England as their support and supply base. As several other noble Lords have said, we have done far too little to inform most of our younger generation of the importance of the Indian army. Less has been said of the West Indies Regiment in the Palestine campaign. I recall the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, remarking that her grandfather was a sergeant in one of its battalions. We have missed a great opportunity to contribute to national integration and to encourage more from our Asian and other ethnic minorities to enlist in our forces today. We have failed to explain how closely our history is linked to our continental neighbours.
The French commemoration has been much more generous to its partners and allies, as well as to its former enemies. An open-air exhibition along the Champs Elysées, in 2014 to 2015, carried pictures of allied troops in all their diversity: Scots, English, Indian, Moroccan and Algerian as well as French. British troops have marched in their 14 July parade. A special ceremony in Paris marked the American entry into the war, impressing President Trump so much that he wanted to initiate regular military parades in Washington on his return. The British, in contrast, have focused on our own war and our own forces, leaving the Americans, French, Belgians, Indians, even the Australians and Canadians, too much in the background.
The remembrance ceremony at the Cenotaph is, in effect, the annual symbolic representation of British history and identity. In 1919, the first parade past the Cenotaph included troops from 12 empire and allied forces—the French, Americans and others—as well as from Britain. Since then, however, it has shrunk to an entirely British ceremony, unchanged for over half a century and almost entirely white, with only the Commonwealth high commissioners from outside the UK. I welcome the participation of the German president in this year’s event as a welcome sign of openness to change.
Should we not in future years follow the French example in their 14 July ceremonies and invite contingents from other countries, with whom we have shared—and still share—common dangers and threats, to take part? This could include contingents from India and Pakistan, to mark how much Britain depended on their predecessors in past conflicts; Polish troops and airmen, to explain to our young people the crucial contributions that they made in the Second World War—in intelligence, in the Battle of Britain, at Arnhem and Monte Cassino; and Belgian forces, to make our right-wing politicians recognise that many Belgians fought on, from British bases, in both world wars. When in Government, I recall a Conservative Minister remarking that the Belgians never fight, to be sharply corrected by an official who reminded him that Belgian and British planes were flying joint missions over Libya at that time. The French, our most vital ally in World War I, whose resistance to occupation we supported in World War II and, with the Americans, our closest ally today, should of course also be included.
Britain did not stand alone, in either world war. The myth that we did—that we not only invented freedom but saved it from continental tyranny—is embedded in our most widespread national narrative, and in the way we have approached commemoration of the sacrifices in the two wars. As we reflect on the efforts we have made to educate our younger generations on the national experience of World War I, I hope that we will learn lessons for a more inclusive approach in the future: a recognition that Britain’s security has been maintained with the support of others, and will be maintained in the future only if we continue to co-operate with others within an institutionalised European and international order.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to play a part in a debate of this kind and I am very grateful for the opportunity.
As it happens, the first speech, by the Minister, and the last, by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, have both referenced the participation by the German President in our commemorative events this weekend. That emboldens me to begin by quoting from a German philosopher, Leibniz, who once said that the present is suffused with the past and charged with the future. There is, then, no time like the present, this centenary moment, to take stock of what has gone before while positioning ourselves for what is to come.
This debate has been a perfect vehicle for exploring this dynamic, and we can only thank all who have contributed for their evocative, personal and challenging remarks. From this vantage point, we in this Parliament, and the nation at large, must bring the past alive again, not for its own sake but in order to recommit ourselves to the future—a note that has been struck again and again during this debate.
A kaleidoscopic array of experiences has flooded my mind, as it has the minds of us all, and shown us just how connected we all are to the events of 1914-18. Let me run down a short list of such memories that spring from my own mind, not in the hope of being exhaustive but in an attempt to illustrate the wide spectrum of our national and international life that was drawn into this conflict 100 years ago.
The Sunday school room in Burry Port where I used to play and learn as a boy was a simple, lean-to, wooden affair—not Lincoln Cathedral. A certificate on the wall carried the name of Bert Owen. Many years later, I discovered that he had survived the horrendous battle for Mametz Wood in 1915 but died two years later at the battle of Messines. A photograph on our kitchen wall at home shows Private Robert Edward Rhodes with his simple medals, from Staffordshire. He would have been my wife’s great-uncle. He died aged 21 in Flanders fields. These were two lads from small towns, just like millions of others, and many references have been made to just such people. “Short days” they,
“lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved”.
My student holiday job was as a male nurse in St David’s mental hospital in Carmarthen. I shaved and bathed a poor man who had been gassed and shell-shocked 40 years previously before being committed to that institution where, as far as I know, he spent the remainder of his days. I remember the geriatric ward of a local hospital at the very beginning of my life as a Methodist minister. The mere sight of a young man wearing a clerical collar was enough to set off a barrage of abuse aimed directly at me—there was no place for God in the minds of so many of those who endured the trenches. Those were two hospitals where veterans were victims, just like millions of others, who had heard,
“The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells”,
but were now left to deal with their ghosts and their unresolved anger, or else just kept out of sight because their cases were too hard for us to contemplate.
Another of my holiday jobs was to help demolish what had been a national explosives factory in Pembrey. Millions of shells and tons of explosives were manufactured there. The factory poured its toxic chemicals into the sea where I and my pals used to swim and cavort. Its workforce during the Great War was largely made up of women—their yellowing skin and hair making it only too obvious where they worked.
Margaret Broadley was deputy matron of the London Hospital. She lived out her life as a spinster, sublimating the deep energies of the love she once had for her sweetheart through her chosen vocation of nursing. She never forgot, as she told me often enough, his kisses and caresses. Those were women, like millions of others, working tirelessly behind the scenes, so many of them widowed before they were wed.
I am wearing a khadi poppy, of which much mention has been made. Let it stand this evening, with permission, for Indians, Africans and Caribbean soldiers, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians.
Let us remember that not only soldiers served from our imperial regions. I can picture the endless supply lines that supported the military effort. Recently, I visited Kenya and met a number of people from a sprawling township on the edge of Nairobi known to this day as Kariokor—the Carrier Corps. The place name survives in its strange and mutilated form.
“Gathered like pearls in their alien graves”,
lay what the poet Sarojini Naidu called the “Gift of India”, and she would surely have added those of so many other places from around the Empire too. The reading of that poem was one of the highlights of our Parliament Choir’s commemorative performance of Mozart’s Mass in C minor just last week.
I might also mention a cantata, a composition of Brian Hughes performed in Cardiff by the National Youth Choir of Wales, accompanied by the National Youth Orchestra of Wales, called “Sorrows of the Somme”. Indeed, as has been mentioned often, the wide cultural response to the safeguarding of the memories of that awful time have been very striking.
I come towards the end of my list of memories. I remember the memorial I dedicated in the National Memorial Arboretum in my capacity as president of the Boys Brigade. We remembered 11 members of our movement who had been awarded the Victoria Cross for their courage and leadership during the Great War. I remember that the names of hundreds of young soldiers are written in magnificent copper-plate on a vast, framed roll of honour in the parish of Saint John, in Croydon, where I now live—or chiselled on large marble slabs on the chapel wall at Trinity College, Cambridge. They remind us of all those who paid the supreme price on the battle-fields, and they remind us of the classlessness of those from across the social spectrum who gave what was their today so that we might enjoy what would become our tomorrow.
“At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them”—
the words of Lawrence Binyon, will ring out across the land over the next few days. I feel a need to hold these words up for greater scrutiny, especially the word “remember”, and I hope noble Lords will forgive me for this. The verb “to remember” is one of the English language’s precious jewels. It has a distinctive meaning which is often lost in the way we employ it. I suspect we would do well to pronounce it differently: to “re-member”, with a hyphen in it, rather than simply “remember”. We “re-member” that which has been “dis-membered”. Memory serves a greater purpose than merely recapturing something that is in danger of passing out of our minds. “Re-membering” is about rebuilding a fragmented world, putting flesh on the ideals we have for our world. How better to honour the memory of those who paid such a price for our freedom?
What followed the First World War, far from “re-membering” a dismembered social order, too often simply added to its fragmentation. It concerned itself with punishment and revenge rather than reconstruction. The Second World War became an inevitable consequence of the failure to win the peace.
As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has said, it was in the years following the disintegration caused by the Second World War that the world seemed at last to have come to its senses. The founding of the United Nations and its various agencies, the Bretton Woods agreement, the Marshall Plan, the European Union and NATO were all aimed at “re-membering” a dismembered world. We set our target—let us not forget this—on: saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war; reaffirming faith in fundamental human rights; establishing and maintaining the rule of law; promoting social progress. The object of our emphatic intention to honour the memory of those who served their King and country in that godforsaken war surely has to be to build a world worthy of their sacrifice.
Abraham Lincoln saw it that way—and only too clearly—when he stood at the battle-field of Gettysburg during his nation’s Civil War:
“The world … can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated … to the great task remaining before us … that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion … that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain … that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom … and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.
Gosh, those words ring true now. Lincoln! Thou shouldst be living at this hour: the world hath need of thee.
I am grateful for the privilege of adding my voice to those who have contributed to this debate, and of giving thanks for the Armistice which brought the First World War to its end. The challenge it leaves us with is clear enough. We must work hard for the “re-membering” of our dismembered world. We will truly honour the memory of those who have gone before when we put our best efforts into building a world fit for those who have yet to be born. Remembering is a forward-looking activity.
My Lords, we have had a most moving, measured and dignified debate and I am most grateful to all noble Lords across the House for their contributions, which appropriately reflected the gravity of the subject under discussion. I thank noble Lords for their kind words about the efforts of DCMS. The credit absolutely belongs to the officials in the department, whose energy has been remarkable, even to the extent of being hospitalised on one occasion. This was not due to some ghastly accident, but was actually due to bedbugs: there was an infestation in one of the hotels they were staying in. Such is life in the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
I think the speeches this afternoon and this evening stood on their own merits and need no summary from me, even if I were capable of giving one, so I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I do not pick out and comment on all individual speeches. To me, a number of themes came through. The first, mentioned by many noble Lords, is that of India and the contribution made by soldiers from the Indian subcontinent, of many religions, who came to our aid. I said in my opening remarks that we have taken care to recognise the participation of all our Commonwealth allies. I hope that I can provide reassurance to the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and my noble friend Lord Sheikh about some of the things that have taken place which have recognised that. Much of the Government’s wider programme reflected that contribution, as I said.
There were examples such as “The Unremembered”, delivered by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which told some of the lesser-known stories of those who volunteered, such as the Indian Labour Corps. In 2016, 14-18 NOW produced the “Doctor Blighty” exhibition in Brighton, a spectacular light projection showing the experience of Indian troops recuperating at the Royal Pavilion Military Hospital that I was very pleased to see. I also managed to attend the “Stories of Sacrifice” exhibition in Manchester, specifically marking the contribution of Muslim soldiers in the First World War and delivered by the British Muslim Heritage Centre. We tried to include representatives, both culturally through 14-18 NOW, as I said before, and through specific events, not only nationally but in many local events around the country.
Another theme that registered with me and was repeated in many speeches was learning the lessons of the war and the incompleteness of the peace. I think we all agree with that, even if we may not all agree on the lessons. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has given us an excellent starter for 10. What this leads to is the question of legacy and what will be left behind after this 1914 period. We decided early on that we were going to stick with the two key dates, 1914 and 1918, but we hope that there will be a legacy. I hope that it may reassure noble Lords that, according to the Government’s recent Taking Part survey, over 70% of people asked said that the centenary events had helped them to understand what was experienced by people who lived at the time of the war. We are trying to build on this success. There are a number of projects, brought about as part of the centenary commemorations, which will continue to provide educational and cultural benefits beyond the centenary period.
For example, the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded more than £96 million to more than 2,200 First World War projects, many at a local level. The Heritage Lottery Fund will continue to support projects that help communities engage with and learn more about their First World War heritage. These include such things as the First World War Memorials Programme, a Historic England project that has added 2,500 war memorials to the National Heritage list for England and repaired more than 400 war memorials in the UK. My noble friend Lord Black and I have already mentioned the Imperial War Museums. Their Lives of the First World War project is an online resource which records the stories of individuals from across Britain and the Commonwealth who served in uniform or worked on the home front.
Through this project, and the refurbishment of its First World War galleries, which he mentioned, Imperial War Museums—which was of course founded in the middle of the First World War—has been a key partner to the Government over the centenary period. It was also intimately involved in the 14-18 NOW project with Peter Jackson in digitising and colouring World War I films. I recommend the programme “They Shall Not Grow Old”, which is on BBC2 at 9.30 on 11 November. Anyone who has seen it will know that by taking old World War I films, digitising them and colourising them, an amazing change has been made—it makes it appear as if you were there.
The Government have supported a number of other projects. This includes £40 million for the First World War Centenary Cathedral Repairs Fund and the £5.3 million battlefield tours project, which allowed nearly 6,000 students and teachers to visit the battlefields. Over 1,700 schools have taken part and I am delighted that the Chancellor found another £1 million to secure the continuation of this legacy project.
However, I take on board that we are not talking about just education or raising awareness, and that we ought to consider that we may be on the edge of another, potentially very dangerous, shift in the global order. I will make some exceptions here and mention the speeches of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, as well as those of my noble friends Lady Helic and Lord Balfe. As politicians, we must think about the lessons of the past in relation to our current position in the world, and the future policy that that entails, all within a moral dimension. I will certainly reread those speeches, along with many others.
On a different topic, no debate on this subject would be complete without mentioning the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Many thousands of casualties from the British Empire are buried in some 23,000 CWGC sites in more than 150 countries around the world. These moving and sensitively maintained sites are a permanent reminder of enormous sacrifices. In 2017, the commission launched the centenary internship, which was supported and funded by a Libor grant from the Government.
It is striking that the First World War still has the power to engage us, young and old alike. It lives with us daily in so many ways: in memorials, in our culture, in our family lore and in our national psyche. We now know—this has been mentioned by many noble Lords—that the Armistice was not the end of the conflict. The challenges of the peace negotiations, the birth of new nations and the all too brief hiatus between the wars were all still to come. Despite that, it is right that we recognise that 11 November 1918 was a monumental moment in the history of the United Kingdom, her Commonwealth and her allies.
Surprisingly, in uncertain times, the First World War can still unite us. It brings us together in awe and horror, respect and gratitude. This is a war which started over a century ago yet it seems almost tangible and within our grasp. There is no way we can make amends. We have no recourse to change history to prevent the bloodshed, nor can we ignore the scars. The facts will never change: millions of lives were ended, millions of families were torn apart, and the world was never the same again.
However, I firmly believe that we can tell ourselves, and future generations, that over the last four years we have saluted those who served, and we have done justice to their bravery. Bearing in mind the words of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, I am certain that, for years to come, we will remember them.
House adjourned at 8.59 pm.