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Anne Picking: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way on that point about the "Heroes Return" scheme. I do not want to malign in any way, shape or form the wonderful work that is being done; it is a credit to the Department and to the country that we are doing this for veterans. However, is he really confident that such a scheme, which, given the age of the veterans, is going to happen in such a short time, can put in place the mechanism for them to return to the countries where they served before they unfortunately pass away?

Mr. Caplin: My hon. Friend raises a pertinent and important point. I can assure her that while there is a need to claim in the two-year period up to the end of 2005, if veterans want to travel after that date, that will be permissible within the scheme. We have ensured that the scheme covers carers, should that be necessary. We hope that as many second world war veterans as want to travel can do so. She will be aware from questions that I have answered in the House on this matter that, at the
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moment, we are restricting "Heroes Return" to second world war veterans and not extending it further. That is a discussion that we may have in the future.

As the House will be aware, to help veterans attend those commemorative events overseas during the two-year period, the Home Office announced last year that concessionary one-year passports would be made available. Veterans and their organisations have warmly welcomed the scheme and, so far, 636 of those passports have been issued.

I was extremely pleased that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was able to announce recently that all British passport holders over the age of 75 will now be eligible for free 10-year passports in grateful commemoration of their efforts before and during the war years.

Mr. Foulkes: There seems to be some confusion about when that arrangement will start. I was talking to an elderly gentleman and I suggested that he go to the post office. He went to the post office and found out—

Anne Picking: It was closed. [Laughter.]

Mr. Foulkes: No, no. The post office was still there—my hon. Friend is not being very helpful. However, it did not know about the scheme, and when we phoned up the passport office it said that the scheme had not started yet. It is very important that we get out the message as to when what the Home Secretary announced will start so that people are absolutely clear about it.

Mr. Caplin: I am glad that my right hon. Friend's post office is still open of course, but most importantly he is right that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced the intention to introduce those 10-year passports. We are working on the detail, and as soon as it is available I shall of course inform the House accordingly.

Education of our young people about veterans' matters is one of my most important priorities. The "Veterans Reunited" programme will also raise awareness among young people in a different and, I hope, exciting way. The "Their Past, Your Future" education programme will give young people the opportunity to research and understand the role played by service veterans and civilian groups in ensuring our national security and survival.

The programme, which is a good example of collaboration on veterans-related issues across the official and voluntary sectors, will support local partnerships between schools, museums and veterans groups. I was very pleased to meet pupils taking part in the project during the Normandy weekend. Their teacher, Helen Yarrow, told me that her group enjoyed their trip tremendously and will remember it for the rest of their lives. Their enthusiasm was reassuring and certainly confounded those who sometimes criticise today's youth and the educational opportunities available to them. This passing on of the baton of remembrance is crucial if future generations are to understand the freedoms we have today and why we have them.
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Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab): I am interested in what my hon. Friend has been saying about the contribution that veterans can make to young people in learning about the suffering that occurred, not only among people in this country but all over the world, as a result of the second world war. Does he have discussions with the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to ensure that in history lessons, perhaps as part of the national curriculum, young people learn rather more about the second world war, the reasons for it and how it was fought than about Henry VIII and his six wives?

Mr. Caplin: I resisted the temptation to list the Departments involved in "Veterans Reunited", but it is a collaboration involving the MOD as well as the Department for Education and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, together with the Imperial War museum and the national lottery. Matters to do with the curriculum are for the relevant Department.

Although the education programme focuses on the second world war commemorative events taking place over the next two years, it is also intended to develop into a longer-term project. There will be resources for schools to use in the citizenship and history curricula if they want to do so, and opportunities for young people to participate in commemorations at home and abroad. Education projects of this kind are intended to help future generations to remember and understand the experiences and sacrifices of veterans of all types and their role in our nation's history.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): In that context, will the Minister welcome the new approach of the Royal British Legion in its campaign to influence and involve itself in the community, in educational and other activities?

Mr. Caplin: I very much welcome the new initiatives that the Royal British Legion is taking, and I had a useful meeting with its executive a few months ago to discuss its forthcoming projects.

The House should now be aware of a further recent initiative that links the current commemorations, "Heroes Return" and the education projects. Recently, I sent Members of both Houses a commemorative booklet covering the events of D-day. So far, the Ministry of Defence has produced other booklets on the battles at Kohima and Monte Cassino. Further booklets are planned for other major second world war campaigns, and I hope to extend the series eventually to more recent campaigns and operations as their anniversaries come round. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), I of course intend to ensure that copies of the booklets are available in the Library. The booklets are available to veterans, among others, and I know from discussions with veterans that, for example, members of the Burma Star Association were very pleased with their booklet, as were the veterans whom I met at the Monte Cassino commemorations.

On 10 May, we launched the new veteran's lapel badge. The aim is to overcome the long-held view that the status of veterans is not fully recognised. The veterans community helped in its creation, and the first
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tranche is being made available to second world war veterans attending the major anniversary commemorations in 2004. I was pleased that my right hon. Friend Lord Healey, a beach-master at Anzio, agreed to be the first recipient of the badge at an event in Westminster Hall. Significantly, he was the first Secretary of State in the Ministry of Defence when it was created 40 years ago.

I also presented badges to veterans at the Monte Cassino commemorations. They will also be available to first world war veterans, D-day veterans and others who receive grants to make "Heroes Return" visits. Given the success of the badge already, I am considering how it might be extended. That will require further decision making, and I shall inform the House accordingly.

Veterans rightly demand that service be recognised where appropriate through the award of campaign medals, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner) pointed out earlier. I was glad that, after a review by a sub-committee led by Lord Guthrie, following the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, we were able to meet the long-standing demand for a medal recognising service in the Suez canal zone from 1951 to 1954. The strength of feeling on this issue is witnessed by the demand for the medal. We have received 38,450 applications, although the level of new applications is tailing off a little. Obviously, it takes time to handle that level of demand. The Army, which has the highest number of applications, estimates that it will clear them over the next two years. The Royal Marines is assessing claims as they arrive, and the Royal Navy and RAF hope to clear their backlog by the first half of next year.

I intend to keep the House informed of progress on the distribution of the Suez medal. Between the announcement in June last year and the medal being struck in November, a significant backlog has been building up in all the medal offices. We are still trying to assess the cases, which takes time. There is an individual assessment, followed by creation of the medal with the veteran's name on it, which takes time. I hope that the House will bear with us on this matter.

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