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Mr. Keetch: Before the Minister leaves the subject of D-day, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the leader of my party and all those from the parliamentary delegation who attended, I want to put on record our thanks to the Minister for arranging for us to be part of that very historic day. Many veterans spoke very highly of him as a Minister. In the time that he has been in that role, he has developed policy very well, and the House should congratulate him personally on what he has done.
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend may not find my intervention quite as helpful, although I must say that he has done a sterling job as Minister and that the Government have done veterans a great service by appointing a Minister with such responsibilities for the first time.
While my hon. Friend is on the subject of the heroes of the second world war, I want to raise two outstanding issues that may seem minor but are very important to the individuals concerned. First, a small number of civilians who were prisoners of the Japanese are still excluded from compensation by the nationality rules. That matter has already been to the House of Lords. In all honesty, it would not cost us a great deal and would beef up the wonderful scheme that the Government introduced to compensate those who were affected.
Secondly, there is the question of people who served on the Arctic convoys. My own late father served on minesweepers out of Iceland; I am not sure whether he would qualify. Those people feel a real sense of injustice that their contribution was not recognised. The answers that I have been given seem a little artificial. Apparently, the King ruled many years ago, in the 1940s, that there should not be a medal for them. The time has come to re-examine that, as we did with the Suez medal.
I want to conclude my remarks about last weekend. First, let me relate a story from one of the glider pilots who landed at Pegasus bridge on that famous night. Incidentally, a replica of the Horsa glider has been reproduced there; hon. Members may wish to go to see it at some stage. He told me that they landed at about 70 mph. When I asked, "What constituted a good landing?", he simply replied, "Everyone had to get out alive."
To conclude on the Normandy events, it would be helpful to give the House some of the statistics that we currently have. I say "currently" because it is only in the past two or three days that we have had the chance to compile them. Some 18,500 people registered with the Veterans Agency for passes to the various events. We estimate that in the bi-national ceremony at Bayeux on the morning of Sunday 6 June, attendance was in excess of 6,000, including 2,000 veterans, and that attendance at the final parade of the Normandy Veterans Association at Arromanches in the evening was roughly 8,000 to 9,000, a third of whomabout 3,000were probably veterans.
We had to give medical assistance to 73 British veterans or their helpers, and 17 were admitted to hospital. I regretfully have to tell the House that one veteran has since passed away. Our thoughts are of course with his family. The embassy in Paris and the Ministry of Defence are arranging support for the family and the repatriation of his body.
I should like to share some other statistics with the House. The logistical support that we provided to the Normandy Veterans Association included 72 Portaloos, 200 umbrellas and, perhaps most amazingly, 48,000 bottles of water, which were certainly consumed in the course of the day.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): I had the pleasure of watchingnot the Portaloos, but the ceremonieson television. May I say, in the cross-party spirit that is developing, that the shadow Defence Secretary struck a particularly heroic pose? I was very impressed by his demeanour. However, there was one sour note about the weekendthat the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, opportunistic as ever, sought to make party political propaganda out of it in connection with the attendance or non-attendance of First Ministers from Scotland and Wales. Now that we have the first opportunity seriously to discuss veterans' affairs in this House, where are they? They are absent, as usual.
Mr. Caplin: My right hon. Friend makes a pertinent point about the nationalists. I do not plan to comment further other than to say that of course Her Majesty's Government invited the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly to be represented at the events, and that such decisions on attendance are a matter for those bodies under their devolved powers.
In conclusion on Normandy, it might be worth our reflecting on the extent of newspaper coverage in the week running up to D-day and over the weekend. The souvenir issues and photographs that the British press produced were excellent. It is not often that we say that in this House.
Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East) (Lab/Co-op):
This is certainly not the end of the D-day
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celebrations. The Minister will grace Wolverhampton with his presence next weekend, when he is coming to celebrate with the whole city. We are celebrating D-day with our veterans, the Suez medals that the Minister played a major part in having produced, and 300 years of Gibraltar. Those three celebrations are combined in one event in the mayor's parlour. The Minister is coming to present Suez medals to veterans. I pay great tribute to him for all the work that he has done on all those fronts. He has done an excellent job of work, and we are extremely grateful to him. We look forward to welcoming him to Wolverhamptonhe is as welcome as the flowers in May.
Mr. Caplin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I very much look forward to meeting him and his veterans next weekend. In France, the D-day weekend is the commencement of 80 days of celebrations, taking in all the other campaigns in northern France and leading up to the liberation of Paris in the third week of August.
I welcome my hon. Friend's remarks about the Suez medal. I will say more about the current position later, but suffice it to say that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took the decision to award the Suez medal having referred it back to a sub-Committee of the Honours and Decorations Committee.
Mr. Adrian Flook (Taunton) (Con): Last Thursday, when the branch of the Normandy Veterans Association that is most closely associated with Taunton left for Normandy, I waved goodbye to Mr. Ken Prescott and his colleaguesall 50 of themas they set off. They told me that local newspapers, particularly the Somerset County Gazette, had been vital in raising the £18,000 that enabled the veterans to get across the Channel for the whole weekend at a minimal cost per person. However, it took a lot of effort by local people, as well as, finally, some national help. Does the Minister accept that there were problems in trying to get the Government to acknowledge the likely size of last weekend's pilgrimage, and will he take up the issue? It cannot be allowed to happen again.
I am afraid to say that I do not accept that. I shall say something later about "Heroes Return", which I think had a dramatic impact on the number of people attending. There was a simple way of ensuring that awards were made to veterans' groups. We made it as simple as possible, and to date we have had 12 calls on the helpline since the weekend, with what I would describe as very minor complaints. I have to say they tend to have been caused by people not having read, or recognised, the helpful instructions that the Ministry of Defence tried to give them. That is a pretty small number of complaints to receive given the size of what occurred last weekend.
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I think that I met the hon. Gentleman's Taunton veterans on the Friday afternoon at the first major event in Caen, and I think that they enjoyed themselves, judging by what I saw of them during the afternoon[Interruption.] In that part of Normandy, the equivalent of what people drink quite a bit of in Taunton is called calvados.
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