HL Deb 29 June 1993 vol 547 cc713-5

2.55 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have now reached a decision on the wearing of the Russian commemorative medal and, if so, what it is.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of State (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, we have not yet reached a decision on whether a change can be made to the existing regulations to permit British service personnel to wear the Russian commemorative medal.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I imagine that I have to thank the noble Viscount for that response. Is he aware that I first raised this matter on 26th April, which is some two months ago? Does it take that long for the Government to arrive at a decision?

Is the noble Viscount further aware that many veterans of the Arctic campaign wore the Russian commemorative medal during the recent Battle of the Atlantic commemoration in Liverpool? They were not arrested, although they were apparently flouting a regulation which Her Majesty's Government do not seem to wish to enforce. Finally, is the noble Viscount aware that Garter King of Arms has sanctioned the wearing of a medal recently awarded by the Maltese Government? If that is the case why cannot our Government sanction the wearing of a medal awarded by the Russians?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, who, I believe, had a distinguished military career himself, must be very well aware of the complications attendant upon medals and the regulations relating to the wearing of medals.

As to whether it was a discourtesy to the Sovereign to wear such medals and whether such people should have been arrested, the noble Lord will be aware, I am sure, of the reaction of Queen Elizabeth I when the first Lord Arundell of Wardour was created a Count of the Holy Roman Empire by the Emperor Rudolph II. She remarked: I would not have my sheep branded with another man's mark; I would not have them follow the whistle of a strange shepherd". I point out to the noble Lord that the sheep in question spent two months in the Fleet prison and was banished from court. I suggest that we live now in a more civilised age, that the wearing of a medal against regulations is merely a discourtesy to the Sovereign and that it would not be proportionateߞin the words of the United Nationsߞto send people to prison or to arrest them for that discourtesy.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, had a distinguished military career because he was in my company. Does the Minister not agree that Whitehall bureaucracy has invariably adopted a parsimonious attitude to the wearing of medals by members of our Armed Forces who, compared with those of other countries, are allowed all too few medalsߞridiculously few? When, in a campaign or enterprise such as this, the great danger and hardship endured by our servicemenߞin this case of the Royal Navy, the merchant navy and the Royal Air Forceߞhas been commemorated by a foreign government, should we not in all fairness be looking for reasons to enable those who participated to wear the medal rather than for reasons why they should not?

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, it distresses me immeasurably when listening to cries of "Hear, hear" and cheers to find myself not only in disagreement with the noble and gallant Lord but also with the majority of your Lordships. It is only because of the very strong views expressed by your Lordships to my noble friend Lord St. Davids on a previous occasion that the review is taking place. It is perhaps a tribute to your Lordships that the review is being taken seriously. When a proper analysis has been made I shall be in a position to report to your Lordships on the results of the review. In the interim I say with due deference to the noble and gallant Lord, in view of his immeasurably greater experience in these mattersߞI am not entitled, unlike the noble and gallant Lord, to wear a single medal, whether foreign or domesticߞthat one of the reasons why British medals are so prized may be their rarity value and the sometimes idiosyncratic rules that govern their wear.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, my noble friend referred to my ancestor, the first Lord Arundell of Wardour, and sheep which Queen Elizabeth did not wish branded by the emperor's mark. Is he aware that during the Suez campaign, the then Prime Minister of Great Britain, Sir Anthony Eden, solemnly had his private secretary, Mr. Philip de Zulueta, write to me as someone who would know, as to whether he, as a descendant of the said Lord Arundell of Wardour, was entitled to be a Count of the Holy Roman Empire? I wrote to Mr. Philip de Zulueta that I did not think that either he, Sir Anthony Eden, or I was entitled to be a Count of the Roman Empire.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I always enjoy trips down historical lanes with my noble friend. However, I should be outside the scope of the Question if I indulged myself too far in that direction. Nevertheless, it had been noised abroad that recusants were not easily loyal subjects of Her Majesty. That was implied by a Sixtus V Bull in the 16th century. Therefore I suggest to my noble friend that anything he can say to support our position will disprove that canon.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, as the campaign was one of the most bitter campaigns of the war, very few of the medals were issued, the number entitled to wear them becomes fewer every year, and no one is likely to be misled by the wearing of the medal, would a wise Minister not decide that now is the moment when a rule should be broken?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, that is the purpose of the review. Your Lordships' views, in particular those of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, will be taken keenly into account in the review that is taking place.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)

My Lords, we must move to the last Question.

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