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Battle of the Somme: Commemoration

Volume 604: debated on Wednesday 20 January 2016

The Government’s events to mark the centenary of the battle of the Somme will be held in Thiepval, France and in Manchester on 1 July 2016. Other regional events, including in Northern Ireland, are a matter for the local authorities and local communities. [Interruption.]

Order. We are discussing an important centenary of the battle of the Somme. The question from the hon. Lady must be heard and so must the answer.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. In 1916, men from the 36th (Ulster) Division and the 16th (Irish) Division displayed great courage at the Somme, despite suffering huge casualties, with almost 2,000 men killed in the first hours of 1 July. Does the Secretary of State have any plans to liaise with the Government of the Republic of Ireland to commemorate the sacrifice made by those from both sides of the border?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is committed, along with the Taoiseach, to commemorating our past with mutual respect and understanding. The Secretary of State and I are working with Ministers in the Irish Government to mark the events of this decade. I have discussed these issues with a number of officials, and I regularly meet the culture Minister, Heather Humphreys; we often attend events together, as representatives of both Governments, in remembrance of those people who died. I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has visited the Somme to remember what happened there, and it is important to note that both the south and the north had a shared experience and a shared history in the first world war, with both suffering while fighting for the cause of defeating the Kaiser.

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. As we reflect on the Somme and move towards the centenary of the conclusion of the first world war, will the Secretary of State or the Minister engage across government with the Prime Minister to think of a suitable national memorial restoration fund to allow us fittingly to bring our cenotaphs and memorials across this country up to standard for the centenary?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point and collectively the whole of the Government have heard his suggestion. It is important to remember the end as well as the beginning of the tragedy that was the first world war.