Commonwealth War Graves Commission — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:20 pm on 22 June 2015.

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Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 8:20, 22 June 2015

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, for securing this debate. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is funded proportionately in relation to war casualties by its six Commonwealth member states and, on this basis, the British Government currently provide some 78% of the commission’s funding. Can the Minister confirm that the funding formula is related to those who died for whom there is a known grave, and does not include those for whom there is none? Can he also confirm that no Government, including our own, can make a unilateral decision to reduce their funding in actual amount or percentage terms without the agreement of all the other Governments involved?

Graves are maintained in 23,000 locations in just over 150 countries. In the United Kingdom, there are 13,000 different locations of which 10,000 have fewer than 10 burials. Some 4,500 maintenance agreements for the CWGC war graves are in place with local authorities, churches, councils, contractors and individuals. These agreements result in the CWGC graves being properly tended and cared for but unfortunately, given the significant cuts in local authority budgets, the difficult financial situation and limited number of active congregation members in some churches, the rest of the cemetery or churchyard in which the CWGC grave is located is often far from well looked after. That can have an adverse impact on the setting for Commonwealth War Graves Commission graves, however well tended they may be. Is this an issue of concern to the Government, and if so do they intend to pursue it?

Although the Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorates those who died up to 31 December 1947 and not beyond, its work continues. With the centenary commemoration of the First World War, the number of people visiting the British world war cemeteries in France and Belgium has never been higher. The CWGC website provides information on the burial place or commemoration site of every British or Commonwealth soldier killed in the First and Second World Wars. The number of identification cases sent to the CWGC where someone believes they have worked out who is in an unidentified grave has risen nearly tenfold in the last 10 years. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was not founded until 1917, and some have estimated that as many as 10,000 names of those killed may still not be included in the records. When such cases are verified, the CWGC adds the name to a memorial, and each year the remains of around 30 British and Commonwealth troops dating back to the world wars are still being discovered. Some can be identified but all are buried with full military honours at a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has helped us, continues to help us and will help future generations not to forget a vital part of our history. It ensures that the nearly one and three quarter million Commonwealth service men and women who died in both world wars are not forgotten.