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Legion d’Honneur (UK Normandy Veterans)

Volume 600: debated on Monday 19 October 2015

7. How many UK Normandy veterans have been awarded the Legion d’Honneur between 6 June 2014 and 12 October 2015. (901598)

The Government are grateful to President Hollande for his generosity in offering the Legion d’Honneur to all living veterans of the campaigns to liberate France in 1944-45. Although this is properly a matter for the French Government, Ministry of Defence officials are working closely with their counterparts and understand that French authorities have approved approximately 1,100 awards and that around 750 of these have been dispatched to UK veterans. I am confident that that number will increase significantly over the coming months.

Everyone will welcome the contribution of and the recognition given to those who fought bravely in the second world war from 6 June onwards, but does the Minister share my concern at the slowness and bureaucracy of the process? My constituents have raised with me the fact that more than 500 people who could have had the award died before receiving it. That is not acceptable.

I accept that what the right hon. Gentleman says is true historically, but he will be aware that since July the admin procedure has changed significantly. We are now submitting 100 awards a week and the turnaround time is between six and eight weeks. Recently, I met my French counterpart here in the UK and he absolutely reassured me that the French will continue to do what they can to ensure that these awards are sent to our veterans as quickly as possible.

Let me put matters into perspective. I have been in touch with the French ambassador who told me that they have been overwhelmed, with more than 3,000 of these heroes applying. They are doing their best and she has asked me to say that they want to hear from Members of Parliament if they know of any constituents who are likely to get the award. The ambassador will try to get them through as quickly as possible.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. By definition, the cohort of veterans receiving this award are elderly but if any hon. Member has a constituent who feels that we must speed up the process I would be delighted to receive those applications and I will treat them as a priority.

I appreciate the comments that the Minister has just made. Over the past year, two Normandy veterans living in my constituency have passed away without receiving the award and the situation is becoming even more urgent for the eight who remain. Will the Minister, given what he has just said, pledge to use all the persuasion he can with the French authorities to resolve this? Although these veterans could win the battle against Nazi oppression, they cannot win the battle with old age.

We accept the general concern being expressed in the Chamber today. I can simply repeat what I have said before: I am confident now that the turnaround time for these awards has increased significantly to approximately six to eight weeks. We are confident that we can get through the backlog relatively quickly, but if any hon. Member has a constituent who needs the award quickly I ask them please to contact me.