Festival of Remembrance
I am very honoured to reply to this toast tonight.
I believe that perhaps ten million people will have been watching this evening on television, taking part in their homes in your Festival of Remembrance. They will have seen, once again, those qualities of dedication and discipline which sustain your work; they will have seen, once again, the Royal British Legion's loyalty to our Queen and to our Country. "Service, not Self" is your motto, shown in everything the British Legion does on behalf of our ex-servicemen and women. There is no finer code of conduct for any of us. The values you stress—service, loyalty and a true patriotism—are not and never will be old fashioned; our country has never needed them more.
Tonight, we both look, very naturally, to the past, and also to the future. I am confident that the Royal British Legion is a forward-looking organisation, prepared and ready for changes of the right kind. I am glad to know that ex-soldiers of the past War generations are still joining the Legion in encouraging numbers. I was, too, delighted to see evidence of young people taking part in tonight's Festival alongside the veterans. I am particularly pleased that you are actively encouraging your young members with opportunities such as the Outward Bound Courses and a Scholarship to the United World College which you are sponsoring.
The Government which I lead has a great interest in so many of the things which are your concern in the Legion. There is a special [end p1] interest, of course—dating from the setting up of a Ministry of Pensions during the First World War—in those ex-servicemen who are War Pensioners. There are now over 380,000 pensions being paid to the war disabled and to war widows at a cost of something like £340 million a year. The Legion has played a great part, over many years, in obtaining and improving this provision, and one example of this, of course was your strong and consistent campaign to have War Widows' pensions exempted from Income Tax. You were convinved that this was morally right, and championed this cause faithfully and well; and I am proud that this Government was able to announce to you, at your Annual Conference in May, this long overdue relief.
And we look back, too. As time passes, there could so easily be a tendency to forget those disabled and bereaved in two world wars, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives. This must never happen, and never will. And we remember too, as we watched the excellent Service Displays and the representatives of the Ulster Defence Regiment, the anguish of Northern Ireland which has led to so many tragic deaths, the deaths of more than 400 members of the Armed Forces. The lengths to which evil men, totally unrepresentative of anybody but themselves, are prepared to go has only strengthened the Government's determination to protect the people of that Province so that they may, once again, live their lives in peace.
The Act of Remembrance associated with the falling of the Poppies in the Royal Albert Hall is a moving moment; for me, and I am sure for you, it brings home the tragedy of all war, and reminds us of the toll of human suffering conflict always brings. To prevent war—the essence of our defence policy—we must maintain our Armed Forces at a proper level, so as to make clear that no aggression against our Country and our allies can be worthwhile. So long as we do so, there will always be a need for [end p2] a strong and active Royal British Legion, to look after the interests of servicemen when they are no longer on the Active List. I would like you to know, as I wish you every success for all your work and for this year's Appeal to the public for its support, how confident I am that the British Legion will continue its wonderful work, and will respond to the challenges of the future as it has always done.