HL Deb 12 November 1987 vol 489 cc1463-5
Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the light of the indications of hardship given by the sale of the Victoria Cross by holders of this decoration, they are giving consideration to the award of an adequate pension to the holders of this unique award.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, there are no plans at present to review the annuity, which is a token of esteem rather than a pension or income.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. While appreciating that these splendid people are, on the whole, not seeking any improvement in the curious figure of £100 a year now paid to them, is my noble friend aware that some of us feel a little shame and embarrassment when one of them is compelled to sell the decoration handed to him by Her Majesty or her predecessors?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not sure that it is always extreme financial difficulties which necessarily cause recipients to sell the award. However, where that is so, it is right that they should have the benefit of all the other support that can be provided, notably the war pension scheme and the various allowances available from other sources.

Viscount De L'Isle

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his solicitude. Is the Minister aware that an adequate pension for all holders of the Victoria Cross is unlikely to be an effective deterrent in the very exceptional circumstances in which a holder is minded to offer his decoration for sale? Furthermore, is he aware that the great majority of holders of the VC, believing, as he has rightly said, that the value of their award cannot be measured in monetary terms, would not wish for an increased pension on the grounds proposed by my noble friend or indeed on any other grounds?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am aware that the view expressed by my noble and gallant friend is one which is widely held by those of his colleagues who hold that fine decoration.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, I believe that Members of this House will yield to no in their admiration for the courage and devotion of those men—I believe there are only men now—who have earned that coveted award. May I draw attention to the fact that we have with us today, in the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, a Member who not only has the Victoria Cross but also has the great distinction of being a Knight of the Garter. It is an honour for us to be associated with him in this House.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, may I also say—

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord if he is aware that the question of money is a very delicate matter? Many holders of the Victoria Cross feel that they hold that honour in trust collectively for those who supported them and often died in the act of courage which led to achieving the distinction. Indeed, the latest person to sell his Victoria Cross, Mr. Tommy Gould, would not, I understand, have been influenced by the amounts of money of which we are speaking. However, if the Minister is going to act on that matter, will he consult the Victoria Cross Association which will give a full picture of the feelings of the members of that association?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we keep in touch with the Victoria Cross Association on that matter. I believe that the association also takes in members holding the George Cross, and very similar considerations apply in that case.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a very touching and moving subject has been introduced in this Question? That is especially true in terms of those who may have been associated with those tremendously gallant people who were awarded the VC, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Irving. Is he prepared, because of the slightly broader circumstances, to get in touch with the senior officers of the Royal British Legion who will surely be of great help to the Minister in doing the right thing by those very remarkable people?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the principal body representing the interests and views of those people is the association which has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Irving. However, we keep in touch with the Royal British Legion on a whole range of matters.

Viscount Slim

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is some precedent for such action? If he cares to look back to the times of British India and the old Indian Army, he will find that gallantry awards included an extra pension and there was occasionally some land given. Therefore, such awards have been made by the British in the past.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, no doubt the noble Lord is right. However, the Answer I gave was in the context of the United Kingdom and of all the other benefits available to citizens of this country.

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