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British Normandy Veterans: Légion d’Honneur

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th September 2016.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 12:00 am, 12th September 2016

What discussions have taken place with the French Government on awarding the Légion d’Honneur to British Normandy veterans.

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

Since the extremely generous offer by President Hollande to confer the Légion d’Honneur on surviving veterans of the campaigns to liberate France in 1944, we have had a number of discussions with representatives of the French Government about the criteria and process for making the award. As a result, the French Government have presented more than 3,500 medals to British veterans. Officials in London and Paris remain proactively engaged to make the process as smooth as possible.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

Three 94-year-old south Devon Normandy veterans—Ferneley Nankivell, Alan Carncross and Robert Barbour DFC—are still waiting for the award of their Légion d’Honneur, and other veterans have passed away during the past year without receiving it. Will the Minister join me in calling on the French authorities to resolve this issue as a matter of urgency, and to look at whether the honour can still be awarded to those who have passed away since July 2014?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

The Légion D’Honneur is established by law in France, with set requirements for scrutiny and approval. Within those limits, the French authorities have done their utmost to expedite the issue of the awards. As in the UK, such honours and awards are generally not made posthumously. I can confirm that the cases of Mr Barbour and Mr Nankivell have been submitted to the French authorities. Unfortunately, there is no record of an application for Mr Carncross, but if one is submitted, I will ensure that it is expedited.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

I do appreciate the efforts of the Minister and the Department to ensure that individuals get their Légion d’Honneur medals, but like Kevin Foster, I still know of a large number of people who are qualified for the medal and have applied for it but have not received it. Is it possible for the Minister to carry out an audit of how many applications are outstanding in the United Kingdom, so that he can chase them up?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

The French have awarded approximately 3,500 medals, and we have sent the French about 4,300 applications. At the moment, the process is taking between six and eight weeks. I appreciate that that is still a significant period given the age of the cohort in question, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, who has pursued the issue persistently over the past year, that we have done everything we can to make the process as quick as possible given the circumstances and the age of the veterans involved.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Through you, Mr Speaker, may I say as chair of the all-party France group that the French embassy is doing its best in difficult circumstances, and that if anybody has a constituent who has a problem, they should write to me and we will get the Légion d’Honneur to them straight away? These people deserve better, and we will do our best for them.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons

Of course, the hon. Gentleman is too modest to reveal to the House that although he is not himself a Normandy veteran, as is demonstrably apparent, he does hold the honour.

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the support that he offers. I can only repeat that we are keen to get applications expedited as quickly as possible. Although all of the cohort are of a certain age, if any hon. Member has a constituent about whom they are particularly concerned, I ask them to contact us and we will endeavour to get the Légion d’Honneur to them as quickly as possible.