DEFENCE – D-DAY REMEMBRANCE – 11 November 2003

[The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Ivor Caplin): Let me make it clear that the Government endorse the importance of remembrance and commemoration, and I am well aware of the veterans organisation's views on those matters. … Such courage in the face of the enemy must never be forgotten, regardless of whether it was shown in the mud of the Somme in 1916, on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 or in the sands of Iraq in 2003. We owe those who put their lives at risk in these ways this country's eternal gratitude.]

Dr Julian Lewis: This matter was first raised at business questions on 30 October, not out of any party-political interest, but by the Labour hon. Member for Mansfield (Alan Meale), and by me for the Conservatives. We all feel that the hon. Member for Yeovil (David Laws) has done veterans a service by raising it.

The only reason why I was slightly late for this debate was because a gentleman outside was overcome with emotion at 11 o'clock. He was wearing a chestful of medals, including the France and Germany Star. We should not underestimate what these commemorations mean to the people whom the Minister has so eloquently been describing.

[Mr Caplin: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I have seen his contribution to business questions and I will shortly write to him and my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) about the matter.

The Department has already provided assistance for a number of 60th anniversaries of the Second World War. Between now and 2005 there are a succession of anniversaries of significant actions, and the Ministry of Defence cannot organise commemorations for all of them. It was therefore agreed with the services and veterans organisations that we would fund a commemoration of one representative battle for each of the services, with a tri-service commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The actions chosen by the services were the Battle of the Atlantic for the Royal Navy, the Battle of El Alamein for the Army and the Battle of Britain for the Royal Air Force. Those anniversaries were commemorated in 2003, 2002 and 2000, respectively.

It was also agreed that other major anniversaries would be marked where possible by the presence of Ministers or senior officers at events organised by the veterans. This level of assistance and support does not mean that the 60th anniversary will be treated with any less respect than is due to these brave men and women.]