HC Deb 08 September 2003 vol 410 cc14-5
15. Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

If the Government will award a medal to British veterans of the Arctic conflict in the second world war. [128432]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin)

Service on the convoys to northern Russia during the second world war was recognised by the award of the Atlantic star. The qualifying criteria, which were published at the time, were quite specific and included service in Arctic waters. I have no plans to revisit that decision.

Mr. Randall

I am rather disappointed by that, and I ask the Minister to reconsider the matter, particularly in view of the welcome announcement of the decision to award a medal to Suez veterans. Perhaps Suez is more on his mind at the moment. Can the Minister give an assurance that veterans awaiting Suez medals will not have to wait several years, as has been reported?

Mr. Caplin

I do not think that it is appropriate to draw a comparison between the two medals. The Suez medal is being awarded following consideration by the honours and decorations committee. Action is being taken to ensure that once final decisions are made on the Suez medal, those awards—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) should reflect on what the Speaker often says to him: "Keep calm, keep calm." Medals will be made available as soon as possible. I hope that some will be available for Remembrance Sunday; certainly, all will be distributed within the next two years.

Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan)

May I say how disappointed I am by my hon. Friend's response? The climatic conditions imposed unique privations on those who served in the Arctic convoys. Moreover, they faced unique military situations in that they were attacked by forces above the sea, namely the Luftwaffe; on the sea, by German heavy units; and below the sea, by U-boats. The Royal Navy recognised that in the way in which it responded with heavy units of the home fleet, fighting destroyer escorts and escort carriers.

None of those was part of the Atlantic forces. May I suggest that my hon. Friend reconsiders the matter and appreciates a unique position that should be honoured by a unique medal for the people who served in those convoys?

Mr. Caplin

I say to my hon. Friend that I do not in any way undermine the role that those men played and their efforts in the second world war. At the time, the commander-in-chief requested a medal, but there was no conclusive evidence that the case was ever fully considered. The honours and decorations committee ultimately made the decision.

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