UK Politics

Peers in tussle over date for WWI 'day of reflection'

British soldiers prepare to go over the top during the battle of the Somme

A minister has rejected August 2014 as a possible date for a "day of national reflection" to mark 100 years since the start of World War I.

Tory peer Lord Cormack wants all shops to close on 4 August that year to allow people to "consider the terrible things" which happened during the war.

But minister Lord Wallace said it would not be "the easiest day to ask people to reflect solemnly on anything".

He said negotiations were on-going with Commonwealth partners on key dates.

Lord Cormack told the House of Lords a day of reflection would provide "a proper opportunity for everyone to consider precisely what terrible things happened in a war in which, on the very last day... twice as many people were killed as have been killed in Afghanistan".

Lib Dem peer Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who speaks for the Cabinet Office in the Lords, said there were "delicate" talks going on to find the most appropriate dates to mark.

He said that the British wanted to mark the start of the war, the Somme and the end of the war but other countries wanted to mark different dates.

Australia and New Zealand wanted to commemorate Gallipoli, while Canada was keen to commemorate Vimy Ridge.

Image caption English schoolchildren will visit cemeteries on the continent

Lib Dem Baroness Bonham-Carter urged recognition of the role of women, while Labour peer Lord Morgan also called for a focus on trade unionism and the war poets.

Lord Wallace suggested there would be a focus on marking the wider social impact of WWI.

Former chief of the general staff Lord Dannatt asked for a strong educational aspect to the commemorations, saying that future generations should be aware of the failures of "diplomacy and politics" in the run-up to war, so that they would not be repeated.

Lord Wallace pointed out that £5m was earmarked to allow two pupils and one teacher from every English secondary school to cross the channel to visit graves of soldiers from their area.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced earlier this month that more than £50m had been allocated for commemoration of the start of WWI.

Mr Cameron said: "Our duty with these commemorations is clear. To honour those who served. To remember those who died. And to ensure that the lessons learnt live with us for ever. And that is exactly what we will do."

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