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D-day Commemorations

Volume 580: debated on Monday 12 May 2014

14. What assistance his Department plans to provide to ensure that veterans are able to take part in the commemorations of the 70th anniversary of D-day. (903956)

The Ministry of Defence has been working very closely for a number of months with several organisations, including the Normandy Veterans Association, the Royal British Legion, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the French Government to ensure that our veterans are at the very heart of the D-day commemorations in June. So far we know that 500 of our veterans will be attending, with some 4,000 of their friends, carers and supporters.

As my hon. Friend will know, many of my constituents and others around the country—elderly veterans who hope to go to northern France for the D-day commemorations—will have difficulty paying for things such as travel insurance and accommodation. Can she update the House on how the lottery can help with some of that financing?

My hon. Friend raises a good point. The Big Lottery Fund effectively provides the funding and has worked with the Royal British Legion to make sure that the money available will include, most notably, the high cost of insurance. If there is any difficulty, I am sure that my hon. Friend will come to see me about that, because it is imperative that there are no bars to our great veterans being able to attend these D-day commemorations.

19. This 70th anniversary might be the last chance to celebrate with veterans what they did in fighting on D-day, given that there are fewer of them and it is harder for them to travel. As it is so vital to recognise the service and sacrifice given on D-day, can more be done to support veterans and their families in attending various events in this country? So many of them will find it hard to travel to Normandy. (903961)

I am absolutely assured that everything has been done with all the relevant authorities that one would expect to be done to ensure that our veterans can attend. The funding allows family members, carers and supporters, not just the veterans, to attend. That is presumably why 500 veterans have already told us that they are attending, with 4,000 of their carers and friends. There has been some publicity about a form that people have to fill in. They do have to fill in a form, of which I have seen a copy, and it is very sensible. It is not lengthy or complicated, and it will provide us with excellent information so that we can ensure that our veterans take a full part in the commemorations. Unfortunately, as we know, for many of them this may be their last opportunity.

Appropriately, plans to commemorate the first world war are far advanced, but it is right and proper that the anniversary of the D-day landings is also commemorated. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) said, veterans of 1944 are advancing in years and many will find it difficult to travel long distances, even with the support of their carers. Has the Minister had discussions with veterans organisations and other local groups to ensure that there is a national commemoration service, and also local events? What plans are there to publicise these events, so that everyone can attend an event should they wish to do so?

Apart from the various events that are planned in France, the most significant one in this country is in Portsmouth on 5 June, from where many of our troops sailed. The hon. Lady makes a good point, but it is right that the spotlight falls over in France on the beaches, with all the services in that place. I have talked to veterans of the D-day landings, so I know what a terrific effort they make to get there, because it means so much to them, and rightly so.