HL Deb 26 April 1993 vol 545 cc1-4

Lord Williams of Elvel asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether British servicemen' who received the Russian commemorative medal in recognition of their service to the Russian war effort are allowed to wear it and, if not, why not.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, the Russian commemorative medal can be accepted as a souvenir only and is not to be worn. Permission to wear a foreign award is not normally given if it is offered more than five years after the event it commemorates or if an official British award has been instituted for the same period of service. The Russian commemorative medal was not instituted until 1985, and the contribution of British servicemen to the Soviet war effort had already been recognised by the award of the Atlantic Star.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that Answer, which will come as no surprise and yet will be a deep disappointment to the Royal Naval Patrol Services Association. Is the noble Viscount aware that escorting convoys to Russia during the Second World War required enormous bravery, courage and hardiness and that anything that anybody can do to reward the people who performed that essential service, who for obvious reasons are now coming towards the end of their lives, should now be done? Would the noble Viscount further accept that it was, in fact, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which imposed restrictions on the wearing of this medal, not the Soviet authorities?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships' House will concur with the noble Lord's assessment of the bravery of those involved in the campaign. However, after World War II more than 50 different nations, including the United Kingdom, instituted awards and medals for campaign service in that war. In 1946, agreement was reached between the allied nations that there would be no interchange of campaign awards between countries as each nation would have instituted its own campaign stars and medals for particular periods of service.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, first, is it not a fact that the Russians decided in 1985, the 40th anniversary of the last war, that these men should be recognised and a commemorative medal was struck to which about 12,000 men are entitled? Is it not also a fact that if they receive the medal, they wear it on suits—on mufti—and not on a military uniform? How can the Ministry of Defence object to that? Secondly, what are the views of the Royal British Legion? Do not its members want to see their comrades wear this medal alongside their other campaign medals? Finally, is it not an insult to the nation concerned that, having recognised our men for their gallantry during the last war, its medal cannot be worn publicly?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, the Government believe that a multiplicity of medals can only cause confusion and will lower the perceived value of those which are authorised by the sovereign in the eyes of both the recipients and the nation.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that his attitude towards these elderly and brave war veterans must strike many noble Lords as ungenerous? Does he agree that, although perhaps 50 allied governments agreed about not wearing other nations' commemorative medals, this medal has a unique feature—namely, the extremely grudging attitude of Stalin and his government towards the bravery of these people at the time? It may well be most appropriate that the new Russian Government should wipe that out by a commemorative medal such as the one that they are now offering.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I would draw your Lordships' attention to the regulations which govern the wearing of medals. They emanate from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Part A of the regulations pertains to those who are in the service of the Crown. Those people are obviously covered by the disciplinary Acts. Part B governs the wearing of medals by those who are not in the service of the Crown. Clause 1 states: It is The Queen's wish that Her Majesty's subjects should not accept and wear the insignia or any such Order or decoration without Her Majesty's permission". We believe that the integrity of campaign medals will be maintained only if their authorisation and subsequent issue remain the prerogative of the sovereign.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, while I do not dispute his decision on the basis of the present regulations, those regulations appear to be unduly restrictive and in the case of those who faced all the risks and dangers of the Russian convoys and received a very proper reward from the Russian Government an exception should be made? If such an exception is contrary to the regulations, would it not be a good thing to amend them?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, it would be proper if I were to bring this matter to the attention of my right honourable friend and to express your Lordships' views to see whether it is possible to bring about some amendment to the restrictions.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I greatly welcome the Minister's reply. Will he consult some of the organisations, such as the Royal British Legion, of which I am proud to be a member, to see what they feel about this matter? This period after the end of the cold war when we can search for ways of paying credit to one another would surely be a good time to reconsider the issue.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I shall bring the noble Lord's comments to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, is not it true that after the last war the French Government, at various times, awarded medals to British citizens for their great services to the allied cause during the Second World War? Those medals were always accorded acceptance by the Monarch through the Government. That is a point worth thinking about when considering this matter.

Viscount St. David

s: My Lords, we should not confuse medals which are awarded for gallantry and services and campaign medals.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I am very close to the Royal British Legion as I am president of the metropolitan area. We greatly welcome the Minister's reply. We believe that any British serviceman or woman, wherever they have served in the interests of our country, should be proud to wear whatever medals they have, and, what is more, the Government should congratulate them.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, the noble Lord's connection with the Royal British Legion is well known to your Lordships' House. Again, I shall refer his comments to my right honourable friend.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, does not the ruling in this matter go back to a rather casual remark made by Queen Elizabeth, who said: My dogs shall wear no other collars but mine own"? Is not that wholly inappropriate now? Everyone is glad that the noble Viscount will raise this matter, because the restriction is clearly out of date.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I am afraid that the comments of Her Majesty Queen Victoria do not lie within my brief.

Noble Lords

Queen Elizabeth!

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for his response. He has summed up the feeling of the House extremely well. I greatly hope that his right honourable friend will pay particular attention to the views that have been expressed on all sides of the House and will make the change in the regulations that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, suggested.