My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government have been and remain wholly supportive of the Normandy Memorial Trust’s plans for the site of the Normandy memorial at Ver-sur-Mer. The £27 million of funding provided by the Government demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that the legacy of the Normandy campaign, and of those who fought and gave their lives, is there not only for this generation but for all future generations.
Does the Minister agree that the trustees of the Normandy Memorial Trust—including its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts—and the Government should be warmly congratulated on their successful efforts in raising funds for this long-awaited tribute? Does she accept that the provision of an education centre close to the site of the memorial should help future generations understand fully the importance of the contributions made by those serving under British command in the battle for Normandy, a ferocious struggle after D-day which secured the liberation of Paris in weeks and helped bring victory in Europe in less than one year?
I thank my noble friend for his kind comments. I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, and his colleagues at the Normandy Memorial Trust for their unstinting work. My noble friend is correct to identify that the putative education centre will have an important role to play in remembering D-day. The trust’s plan to create a visitor and education centre is an intention to increase public awareness of the full scope of the campaign in Normandy, starting with the initial landings, and to capture the spirit of that tremendous campaign, which was a pivotal part of the change of fortunes in the Second World War.
Congratulations are due, but does the Minister agree that, apart from our dwindling band of veterans and their families, a major target group of visitors must be local people in Normandy, particularly French schoolchildren? Will she therefore ensure that all the material is bilingual and uses, so far as is possible, memories of those who were there at the time? Having been a student working on a farm on the plain of Caen, I know that there is tremendous enthusiasm for the role which we in Britain played in the liberation of Normandy.
My noble friend may be aware that the Government have already been generous, as acknowledged by my noble friend Lord Selkirk. Initially, they made available a £20 million grant from Libor funds. On receiving the entreaties of the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, they made available a further £7 million. The trustees are now deployed to secure the remaining funds which they require. I understand that they are energetically engaged in pursuing that objective and have engaged the services of a professional fundraiser.
My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my interest as a trustee of the Portsmouth D-day museum. As we are discussing the educational work that is being done to commemorate D-day, will the Minister ensure that when her department comes to sell the Southwick military estate near Portsmouth, Southwick House—the naval HQ of Admiral Ramsay—will be preserved for the nation and used as an important education centre on the preparations and lessons for D-day, to complement those facilities that already exist in Normandy?
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that in 1944 the Royal Navy had 1,500 major warships, hundreds of which took part in D-day. Can she confirm that any educational package will include the importance of maritime power for any island nation? Also, how will we explain that today this great maritime nation has 13 frigates—fewer than at any time since the reign of Charles I?
I never cease to be surprised by the ingenuity of the noble Lord in insinuating into his questions important matters of our maritime capability. The content of programmes within the education centre will be for the trustees to determine. On his wider point, he will be aware that, more than 70 years on, we face changed circumstances and different challenges, and we have the advantage of vastly improved technology. The ships that we are now constructing are state-of-the-art in terms of technology. They are flexible, resilient ships, with versatile purpose and versatile use. The Government can be congratulated on a very innovative programme of naval shipbuilding.
My Lords, I declare a personal interest. Like many others, my father took part in the battle for Normandy in June 1944. Given all the events of the past few years, is it not particularly important that the educational aspects of this very worthy venture should stress the awful cost of conflict in Europe for ourselves and others on the European continent? This was the fourth great war to have taken place in a century, with a terrible cost in blood and for families. Should it not remind us that, whatever our exact constitutional arrangements with the other European countries, it is in all our interests to work as closely as possible, for ourselves and for future generations?
The noble Lord makes a point of fundamental importance, which nobody could disagree with. The mere physical presence of the memorial at Ver-sur-Mer, and the proposed education centre, are in themselves testament to what happens when countries engage in war. Again, as for the content of any programmes, I am sure that the trustees will take careful note of what the noble Lord has said.