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Veterans Day

Volume 458: debated on Monday 26 March 2007

The Department has increased the support available to regional veterans day events for 2007. Organisers can bid for up to £10,000 for their individual regional events. Officials have also provided advice to all 65 bids so far received on conveying effectively the key messages and on the presentation of veterans badges by leading members of the community as a central feature of the day.

I thank the Government for their establishment of and continued support for veterans day. The Minister is aware that last year the main celebration in Scotland took place in Dundee in my constituency and was a resounding success, thanks mainly to Government funding and the hard work of the local combined ex-service association ably led by Bruce Kelly and Victor Herd. This year, however, there seems to be a problem with funding. Will the Minister agree to meet me so that we can ensure that the success of Dundee’s day last year will be repeated this year?

I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend. As he probably knows, we have increased the amount of funding available this year. Whereas last year we centred it on major cities, this year we are trying to involve many more towns and cities and therefore spreading the funding around. We have had an enormous number of bids. I am pleased to say that Birmingham has been agreed for a national event and of course there will be events in Greenwich in London as well. This is a great opportunity for us to celebrate and get across the importance of veterans, their contribution to our society and the services that are available for them.

Will the Minister bear it in mind that veterans are increasingly young and that on the whole, when we celebrate Armistice day, we are celebrating an historic event, but when we celebrate veterans day, we are celebrating contemporary people who have served recently in the forces? We need to shift the focus of public understanding to the contribution made by the current generation to the armed services, which is in danger of being lost.

I entirely accept what the hon. Gentleman says. Veterans are of all ages. One whom I met a few weeks ago was 22, and a Normandy veteran was 86 or 87. At a veterans event that I attended recently in my constituency, I was struck by the ages of veterans. I met a number of young veterans and discussed the issues affecting them. It is right to get across the diversity of age and the important role that veterans of all ages and backgrounds have played in protecting the peace and representing this country as a force for good.

Is the Minister aware that the Secretary of State for Defence himself recently came to present badges to veterans in my constituency? The event was a great success, even though we did not get the amount of money that Dundee did. We managed to raise the money ourselves. Will the Secretary of State visit my constituency again, and will he recognise that veterans in my constituency are very proud of the fact that they served with others from other parts of the United Kingdom, and that an artificial division between those who served from Scotland and those who served from other parts of the United Kingdom, as some would wish, would be absurd and obscene?

I agree with my hon. Friend that that would be absurd.

The veterans badge has been a widespread success. More than 400,000 badges have been issued, and there are more applications to come in. We are gradually increasing the time frame for applications. I recently announced that 1984 will be the next stage when people can apply for veterans badges, which will take the Falklands campaign into account. Feedback from veterans indicates that they value the badge, and I would be more than happy to come to my hon. Friend’s constituency to present some badges.

I wish the Minister well with this year’s veterans day. If we are to have the maximum public participation and recognition, should not we all be able to take part and should it not be a public holiday?

I will not go down the road of a public holiday at this point. It is important that we all take part. A number of hon. Members have said that they are involved in events that will take place in the week of veterans day. It is crucial that Members of Parliament give their support—many have already done so—which is increasing all the time. Any support or encouragement that Members of Parliament can give to their local events will be most welcome.

The best way to support the splendid innovation of veterans day is to back the campaign by the loved ones of 98 of the soldiers who have fallen in Iraq to have the work “Queen and Country” by the official war artist, Steve McQueen, which includes photographs of those 98 fallen soldiers, produced in the form of a postage stamp by the Post Office as an act of commemoration.

I repeat my earlier comments about the importance of veterans day and of the various events and initiatives to raise the profile of veterans. I am happy to speak to my hon. Friend to discuss that issue, of which I have no knowledge at this time.

I commend the Ministry of Defence on its work on veterans day. The Minister mentioned the Falkland Islands in an earlier answer to a supplementary question: is he placing any emphasis on the fact that this year is the 25th anniversary of the defeat of the Argentineans and their expulsion from the Falkland Islands? Is he allocating any particular resources to recognising the contributions that our veterans of the Army, Navy and Air Force played in that epic event in our history?

The hon. Gentleman has been supportive in maintaining the profile of the Falklands campaign. We pay tribute to all the veterans who took part in that campaign, some of whom are still serving today. Last week, I met some of them in Portsmouth—they did a tremendous thing for this country. We are focusing on the Falklands this year, and commemorations and funding have been agreed. I am going out to the Falklands later this year with the veterans to visit the area and meet people. That is an important part of the focus of this year’s veterans day, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will play his part.