§ 2.57 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ What consultations they are having with the governments of France, Canada and the United States on arrangements for the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the landings by allied forces in Normandy in June 1944.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)
My Lords, Her Majesty's Government, the United States and the Canadian Governments are represented on France's Normandie Memoire 60éme Anniversaire Comité which is developing a full programme of commemorative events in France from 4th June 2004 onwards. The British Military Attaché in Paris represents the United Kingdom. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence and Minister for Veterans will today write to all Members of this House with more details of the consultations, and a copy of that letter will be placed in the Library of the House.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. Is he aware that on the 50th anniversary, nine years ago, several heads of state attended ceremonies on the Normandy beaches? While the number of surviving veterans continues to decline from natural causes, the French, Canadians and Americans are likely to make special arrangements for this 60th anniversary.
§ Lord Bach
My Lords, I am aware that the 50th anniversary was particularly significant and that a very large anniversary commemoration of D-Day was held. A 50th anniversary is particularly significant and those commemorations staged of the 50th anniversaries of events during the Second World War were mounted on a special scale. They should not be considered as setting a precedent for any future event in deciding the extent to which other anniversaries should be commemorated. If at all, priority must be given to primary defence tasks.
626 I have to say that we understand that the Canadians are planning to send over one band and a guard of honour, and that we are not yet aware of what the Americans might be doing. No doubt in due course we shall know. However, events that are already in train include the provision of two military bands, representation at both ministerial and senior Armed Force level at all events, a free one-year passport for those veterans wishing to travel who do not currently hold a passport, and assisting with a service of remembrance and thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral in October 2004. Continuing discussions are also being held with ferry operators to try to secure travel concessions for organised groups of veterans. It is hoped that an announcement can be made about that very soon.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of the widows of men who fell on Normandy beaches would also wish to be included in any commemoration?
§ Lord Vivian
My Lords, even though I have listened carefully to what the Minister said, is he aware that there is serious concern that the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the successful landings at Normandy is not receiving the appropriate attention and high precedence that it rightly demands? For instance, can the Minister explain what liaison has taken place between Her Majesty's Government and the French Government in relation to organising the proposed service of commemoration in the Bayeaux war cemetery and the parade that is due to take place at Arromanches on 6th June?
§ Lord Bach
My Lords, I accept that there is some concern, but it is misplaced. This will be an important weekend of commemoration. It is worth remembering that the Normandy landings received large-scale commemorations on both their 40th and 50th anniversaries. A number of significant Second World War anniversaries will fall in the years up to 2005 and it will not be possible financially to mark them all on a large scale. Funding for 60th anniversaries has been focused equally between the significant World War II battles of each of the three services. The battles they have chosen are the Battle of the Atlantic for the Navy, the Battle of El Alamein for the Army and the Battle of Britain for the Royal Air Force. The Ministry of Defence will also be organising a commemoration of the anniversary of the end of the war in 2005. This will provide an opportunity to pay tribute not only to the Normandy veterans but also to those of other campaigns—for example, those who fought so bravely 627 in the Far East, those who fought so bravely in the campaign through Italy and those whose service was at home.
§ Baroness Sharples
My Lords, is it just a question of cost in regard to the 60th anniversary? Is there a concern about costs?
§ Lord Bach
No, my Lords, it is a concern not only about costs but also about finding a due sense of proportion in order to cover these very important anniversaries. The Normandy Veterans Association need have no concerns: the 60th anniversary of D-Day, which is a significant event in itself, will be properly commemorated.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, the Minister is not giving full credence to the need for a significant 60th anniversary of D-Day. It was the most incredible operation of the war. It could have wavered on a knife-edge, but it was brought off and was a significant factor in ending the war. Unless we have these commemorations we will be in a situation similar to one the other day where a small child said to his parents when they were talking about this, "Oh, yes, we read something about that in history". It is history. Does the Minister agree that a proper commemoration would help to underline its importance to the young?
§ Lord Bach
My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. It was one of the critical battles of the Second World War. My generation learnt about it sometime after. I very much hope that the present generation of children is also learning about it. Of course it would be scandalous not to mark such an anniversary. I am trying to put over the fact that we must have a sense of proportion about these matters and not leave out other anniversaries of great significance.
Lord Mowbray and Stourton
My Lords, as I am a patron of the Normandy Veterans Association—and as we will all be dead after the next such anniversary probably—I should inform the Minister that the Normandy veterans are very confused indeed about what we are going to do next year. A fortnight ago I spent a weekend with all the Scottish members in Dingwall and there was another gathering the fortnight before. Is the Minister aware that we are all very much in a muddle as to what is happening? The more guidance he can give us, the better.