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First World War Commemoration

Volume 577: debated on Thursday 13 March 2014

The Government will deliver a four-year programme to mark the centenary, focused around the themes of remembrance, youth and education. We will lead the nation in appropriate acts of remembrance and provide a framework for learning, community and cultural projects through a package of funded activity worth nearly £100 million.

As part of our local commemorations, I am leading a project that will see schools, veterans organisations, sports bodies, clubs, societies and the wider community in Basildon and its two twin-towns of Heiligenhaus in Germany and Ville de Meaux in France come together to create a unique trilingual exhibition exploring social attitudes then and now called “Never forget”, “N’oubliez jamais” and “Niemals vergessen”. Does my hon. Friend agree that the commemorations offer an excellent opportunity to remember that however dark the hour, there is always light and hope to be found?

This is becoming a multilingual Question Time. Having recently visited Thurrock and seen for myself the amazing cultural activity that goes on in my hon. Friend’s part of the world, I have to say that the innovation he talks about does not surprise me in the slightest.

Will the Minister say a little bit about the importance of the contribution of what were British empire troops—troops from Commonwealth countries of today? What exactly is happening to link up with other countries to commemorate and highlight their vital contribution in the first world war?

We have an extensive engagement with Commonwealth countries and we are determined to acknowledge the role of the Commonwealth countries, recognising that the war could not have been won without them. With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I will write to the hon. Gentleman detailing exactly the activities we are undertaking with Commonwealth countries.

14. Will my hon. Friend work with me and the dedicated voluntary group Swindon in the Great War, which is doing everything it can to mark the significance of the centenary with commemorative events, but which is finding the process of obtaining funding a challenging one? (903030)

My hon. Friend is a neighbour of mine and I know that there is a lot of cultural activity and innovation in Swindon. He will have many small community groups that will want to apply for funding, and I will certainly assist him as much as I can. The Heritage Lottery Fund is extremely keen to make the application process as simple as possible.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating local communities who are taking initiatives to raise funds to commemorate the first world war, particularly those in the Shankill road in my constituency who are getting together with people in other communities to raise a suitable commemorative memorial in Woodvale park? That is a tremendous initiative and it deserves to be congratulated.

The right hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. The remembrance activities must involve all communities, and we should be tremendously proud of the way in which the communities are getting involved. One of the important parts of the commemorations over the next four years will be to bring younger generations into these activities.

On that important point about younger generations learning about the almighty sacrifices that were made in the great war, will the Minister give us an update on the millions of pounds of funding he has put towards schools’ battlefield tours?

I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that more than £5 million has been set aside to enable secondary schools to visit battlefield sites. Over the course of four years, every secondary school in the United Kingdom will be able to send at least two pupils to visit the battlefields of world war one.

May I urge the Minister to think carefully about the contribution that Members of this House and of the other House made to the first world war? On 6 November 1914, Arthur O’Neill, a Member of this House, was killed at Klein Zillebeke while on active service. Four days later, Henry Parnell, a Member of the other House, and Bernard Gordon-Lennox had also been killed. They have a war grave at Klein Zillebeke. Would it not be a good idea to commemorate them in Belgium? Perhaps the Minister could mention this to any important Belgian visitors who might be coming here today.

The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. It is important that we recognise the contribution to world war one made over a wide range by many different groups. Recognising the contribution made by hon. Members is particularly apposite.