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War Graves

Volume 586: debated on Monday 20 October 2014

16. What assessment he has made of the criteria used by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to determine the level of maintenance of war graves; and if he will make a statement. (905531)

Graves are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission predominantly for Commonwealth armed forces personnel who lost their lives in the first and second world wars. Since January 1948, all service personnel who die in military service and receive what we call a service-funded funeral are entitled to have their grave marked with a military pattern memorial regardless of the circumstances of the individual’s death. If their next of kin chooses to mark their grave with a military pattern headstone, my Department will offer to maintain that headstone and grave at public expense. Families are free to choose to mark the grave with a private memorial. In those cases, the MOD does not maintain the grave.

I am very grateful to the Minister for that helpful answer. A constituent came to see me recently to tell me that her son, who served in the armed forces and was killed in a terrorist attack, could not have his grave tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission because he was not killed in active service. Could the Minister confirm whether that is right or not, whether there should be such a distinction and whether anything can be done to help my constituent?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that question and I know that he wrote to the Ministry of Defence only last week; in fact, I saw the letter this morning. I am more than happy to meet him to discuss the matter, because I think it may not be quite as simple as it appears at first blush. I am sure we can find a way of resolving it and am happy to meet both him and, of course, his constituent.

First, may I declare an interest as a Commonwealth War Graves Commissioner? The question that has just been asked relates to the confusion between MOD graves and Commonwealth war graves. Is the Minister aware that the MOD maintains large numbers of non-commissioned headstones in Germany? Will she have a look at what plans are in place to maintain those graves post-2014, after the British Army withdraws from Germany?

The anomaly is not acceptable, because post-1945 war graves have not been maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I would suggest that this is in breach of the armed forces covenant. If there is a will, there is a way. The CWGC should be allowed to take over and maintain those graves of military personnel who have died since 1945.

Again, I am very grateful for those comments and happily take them on board. I am happy to look at the issue and report back both to the hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones).

If the Minister is able to induce happiness in the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell), it will be regarded, I think, by all as a great triumph.