We have received a number of enquiries on the subject of Members of Parliament and the laying of wreaths on Remembrance Sunday, in the context of the forthcoming General Election. Parliament will be dissolved next week, most probably on 6 November, at which point there are no sitting MPs – the 650 current Members will either retire or seek re-election and thus be candidates.
Remembrance Sunday did not come into effect until 1946, adding to the 11 November Armistice Day commemorations. As we have not had a November/December General Election in the 73 years since, there is no precedent to refer to. Following a recent exchange on the subject in Parliament – it is clear that no decision has been made centrally and those planning events will have to make a decision locally. We have discussed this matter with our colleagues at the National Association of Civic Officers (NACO) who have very kindly agreed to share the following advice which they have sent to their members:
- There is no basis to treat an MP of the dissolved Parliament, who is seeking re-election, differently to any other candidate.
- There could be a dozen candidates in some constituencies and some large local authority areas may have three or more constituencies, so offering a wreath laying opportunity to all candidates is impractical, especially as Remembrance Sunday may come before Close of Nominations.
- The laying of a wreath is a mark of respect and must never become a campaigning or posturing opportunity. MPs seeking re-election and other candidates can pay their respects as any other member of the public, by placing a wreath or wooden poppy cross at a memorial after the civic party has concluded.
- NACO members might anticipate some pressure to create a local arrangement and will need to be ready to resist it, or have a very good case if they bow to that pressure. For example; where the MP seeking re-election is of the same party as the Leader of the Council this might lead to unfair pressure, which might even be delivered as an instruction from the Chief Executive. Sharing this guidance before the question is even asked might help.
- In short then, it is advisable to alter your usual composition of the Wreath Laying Party, to exclude Members of Parliament and to give immediate thought on how to communicate and justify that decision.
As and when further information becomes available, NACO will issue a further update, but they do not anticipate that will be the case.