1 Mar 2004 : Column 595

House of Commons

Monday 1 March 2004

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Arctic Convoys

1. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What medals have been awarded to British citizens who served on the Arctic convoys. [156729]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): Two campaign medals were awarded to those who saw service in the Arctic convoys. The qualifying criteria for the campaign medals awarded after the second world war were published in Command Paper 6633 in May 1945, and subsequently modified by Command Paper 6833 in June 1946. Both awards specifically stated that service on the convoys to north Russia was to be marked by the award of the Atlantic star in acknowledgement of their exemplary conduct.

In addition, in 1994, on the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Her Majesty the Queen granted permission for surviving veterans of the Arctic convoys to accept and wear the Russian 40th Anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War medal, which was instituted in 1985.

Mr. Allen : I thank the Front-Bench team, the Prime Minister and Members in all parts of the House for the recognition of the Suez veterans a few months ago, which was much appreciated by them and showed that it is possible to recognise veterans even at such a late stage.

Given that it is at least 50 years since the last serious discussion of this issue by the Ministry of Defence, will my hon. Friend have another look at it? There are very few surviving veterans who served our country on the Arctic convoys. As he said, the Russian Government have awarded them a specific medal. I hope that he will bear in mind the feelings of Members in all parts of the House and consider the matter again while a few of those heroes still survive.

Mr. Caplin: I assure my hon. Friend that the contemporary documentation has been looked at again. The evidence confirms that the HD committee—the

1 Mar 2004 : Column 596

Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals—of the day did not overlook the convoys to Russia; indeed, the Command Papers specifically mention service in the Arctic. Like my hon. Friend and all other Members, we recognise the bravery of those who served on the convoys. Their service is recognised and covered by the award of the Atlantic star.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): My father was an Arctic convoy veteran. He received the Russian medal in the mid-1990s, and wore it with great pride until he died a few years ago. He would be the first to want me to stand up in the House and say that there were very special circumstances on the convoys, and that the Government should now find it in their heart to remember and recognise those who gave such valiant service to this country.

Mr. Caplin: We do exactly that through the award of the Atlantic star. I recognise the bravery of the hon. Gentleman's father, but the award of the Atlantic star is the right one according to the Command Papers published for the House in the 1940s.


2. Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab): What plans his Department has to mark the 60th anniversary of D-day. [156730]

8. Mr. Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): What plans his Department has to mark the 60th anniversary of D-day. [156736]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): The Government recognise the importance of all the major events that led up to the end of the second world war, and in particular the continued interest and importance of the D-day landings. Our plans to mark those events include the recently launched "Veterans Reunited" programme. With the aid of lottery funding, it will involve all generations of UK residents in commemorating the events, both overseas and here at home.

I can also confirm that Her Majesty the Queen, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and senior members of the armed forces will attend the main D-day commemorative events organised by the French Government at Arromanches on 6 June. We will also send military bands and other service detachments.

Mr. Tynan : I congratulate my hon. Friend on the establishment of lottery funding for "Heroes Return". I know that the veterans in Hamilton, South welcome this vital opportunity to receive financial support. There is, however, concern about what I understand to be a 21 March deadline for application to the French authorities for identity passes. A constituent who contacted me did not know about the deadline until he made his application. Will my hon. Friend ensure that publicity is given to the deadline, and that if by any chance people do not manage to meet it, everything is done to ensure that they participate in the events?

1 Mar 2004 : Column 597

Mr. Caplin: The deadline applies only to the event on Sunday 6 June; no other events are affected. I can also reassure my hon. Friend that if his constituent telephones the Veterans Agency freephone number, 0800 169 2277, he will be given all the help he needs.

Mr. Watts: I welcome today's announcement, but may I ask whether the Minister will be organising events to celebrate VE-day and VJ-day? If so, will he ensure that they take place nationwide? Many of those involved in the original events are getting old, and need to celebrate in their localities. Will there be events in places such as Merseyside?

Mr. Caplin: I am pleased to announce to the House that there will be a national celebration and commemoration of VE-day and VJ-day on Sunday 10 July 2005. The main event in London will be led by Her Majesty the Queen, but I greatly hope that other towns and cities across the UK, including my hon. Friend's constituency, will stage their own events on that day.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Following the Adjournment debate last week, will the Minister tell the House how many of the estimated 10,000 surviving Normandy veterans expressed an interest in or plan to attend the commemoration services and parades in France during the first week of June?

Mr. Caplin: As the hon. Gentleman is aware, I used the figure 5,000 to 10,000 in last week's Adjournment debate—we do not have a more precise figure—but one of the reasons for asking travel operators to register their tour parties with the Veterans Agency is to ascertain a fuller picture. Considerable consultation and discussion with the Normandy Veterans Association, with which the hon. Gentleman is involved, has taken place. The most recent meeting with its chairman took place in France on 21, 22 and 23 January this year.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I hope that, in view of the Minister's substantive first answer, it is in order to say that when the extremely welcome VJ-day celebrations take place, prominence should be given to the Indian Army. It was, after all, the largest volunteer force in history and largely broke the back of the Japanese on land. I have an interest to declare in that my grandfather served in it.

Mr. Caplin: I am certainly prepared to accept bids today in respect of who should take part on 10 July, but every consideration will be given to the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I thank the Minister for announcing in advance the VE-day and VJ-day celebrations next year, and we look forward to Her Majesty's Government being represented then by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard).

The Government's organisation of what is likely to be the last D-day commemoration—it will be attended by a significant number of survivors—has, according to the spokesman for the Normandy Veterans Association

1 Mar 2004 : Column 598

today, been lamentable. Originally, the Government were going to send one junior Minister and one military band, but now they have been shamed into sending the Prime Minister and four bands. I have been told today by Leslie Frost, the chairman of the Normandy Veterans Association, that there is complete confusion about who is supposed to be organising the church service at Bayeux on the Sunday. Since nothing is more likely to sour the event than individuals who liberated Europe being turned away for lack of photo ID, will the Minister ensure that the Normandy Veterans Association has all the information for dissemination to its branches and that it will not simply be left to people themselves to find out the number of the Veterans Agency?

Mr. Caplin: It is always good to start on a Monday afternoon with a joke, and the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) has certainly obliged. I shall tell the House what is truly lamentable—the comments that he just made about the organisation for commemorating Normandy this year. We have made genuine arrangements with the Royal British Legion, the Normandy Veterans Association and others who will travel independently to ensure that people are secure, safe and able to visit the events that they want to attend. That includes the Bayeux church service, which I will attend.

Next Section

IndexHome Page