CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

DEFENCE (FRONT BENCH) – VETERANS DAY – 27 March 2006

Dr Julian Lewis: May I express a degree of surprise and puzzlement about the origins of Veterans Day? Does the Minister accept that the Government have received strong support from the Opposition for a whole raft of commemoration events, whether they be for the Battle of the Atlantic, or the end of World War II – VE-Day and VJ-Day? Can he honestly say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had serious discussions with the Ministry of Defence and the Veterans Agency before making the announcement? The Chancellor did not seem to be aware that there was already an archive of veterans' memories when he talked of children going around with tape recorders recording them - as the Minister knows, the Imperial War Museum does that very well. Did the Chancellor realise that, in America, Veterans Day is the same as Armistice Day, and does the Minister accept that Veterans Day could, to some extent, undermine Armistice Day in this country?

[Don Touhig: On the last point, I do not. As I said earlier, I am very keen that we hold 11 November in a special place in the hearts of the whole country as a day on which we solemnly remember those who made a sacrifice for our country to defend the freedoms that we enjoy today. Veterans Day is meant as a celebration for veterans of all ages who have served our country at all times in the past. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I welcome the support of the Opposition – all parties in the House – for the various decisions and acts that we have taken to commemorate and celebrate veterans. However, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence launched Veterans Awareness Week last year, he made it quite clear that it would not be a one-off event and that we would have ongoing events. We have concluded – this was the reason for his announcement – that we will have a Veterans Day this year. We think that 27 June is the appropriate time of year to hold it for various reasons, such as the fact that it is away from 11 November and the time at which we celebrate Her Majesty's official birthday. I hope that everyone will see the day as a significant move forward to recognise our veterans' contributions, support it and do all that they can to make it a success.]