HC Deb 12 November 1964 vol 701 cc1188-90
Q3. Sir J. Smyth

asked the Prime Minister if he will grant to the holders of the George Cross the same £100 tax-free annuity, irrespective of need or any other conditions, as was granted to the holders of the Victoria Cross in 1959.

The Prime Minister

The payment of a monetary reward to members of the Armed Services who receive the Victoria Cross is hallowed by tradition; but I do not think it would be appropriate to extend this practice to awards for acts of gallantry in civilian life.

Sir J. Smyth

Does the Prime Minister realise that the 128 living holders of the George Cross will be very disappointed with that reply, as will the 237 living holders of the Victoria Cross? When this matter came up on 28th July, 1959, four very prominent members of the Labour Party strongly supported it. They were Mr. Hugh Gaitskell, who was then the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Members for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and Mr. Aneurin Bevan, who was then Member of Parliament for Ebbw Vale.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman was courteous enough to write to me about this question and to draw my attention to the problem which some of the holders of the George Cross are facing. If he would be good enough to let me have details of any individual case, I will be very glad to look into hem. If the problem looks at all general, naturally we will be prepared to look at the whole situation again.

Sir J. Smyth

The Prime Minister says that it would not be appropriate to extend this to civil life, but does he realise that most of these very high awards were given for service during the war? The only difference between the two decorations is this. They are given for equal degrees of gallantry, but one is given for gallantry in battle and the other is given for gallantry not in face of the enemy, as in the resistance movement, prisoner-of-war camps and many other spheres. I think that the Prime Minister is very mistaken in his appreciation of the whole situation.

The Prime Minister

I think that the point which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has made is well understood by the House and was in the minds of hon. Members when this matter was last debated on, I think, an Amendment to the Finance Bill which was accepted by the then Chancellor, Mr. Macmillan, in 1956.

Mr. Shinwell

As this is rather a special case, do I gather from what my right hon. Friend said in reply to the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) that if submissions are made to him about hardship in the lives of any of the holders of the George Cross he will give them his sympathetic consideration?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

Would the Prime Minister object to my asking him a supplementary question? Although it does not particularly arise from this Question, it concerns a very similar anomaly. There is a very sharp and unfavourable distinction in the financial return to those who won the Military Medal in the First World War and those who won it in the Second World War—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is quite a different matter.