HL Deb 28 March 2002 vol 633 cc349-52

Lord Luke asked Her Majesty's Government:

What provision they have made to distribute The Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal to voluntary workers, such as St John Ambulance, the Red Cross and the Women's Royal Voluntary Service.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal will not be distributed to voluntary workers. On this occasion, the issue of medals is being restricted to serving members of the Armed Forces and Royal Fleet Auxiliary and the "999" emergency services.

Lord Luke

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. However, as a former commissioner and commander in St John Ambulance, I am extremely disappointed. Do not members of these organisations line the roads during great events and frequently have to cope with providing first aid during emergencies? Is she not aware that these marvellous people have the generosity of spirit to give of their free time to help others? Could not the noble Baroness herself show enough generosity of spirit to go back to her colleagues and ask them to think once again about this?

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I can see that there is strong feeling in the House on this issue. The Government have been looking at ways of recognising the outstanding voluntary service that people give to their local communities, and an announcement will be made in due course. I hope that that helps the noble Lord, Lord Luke. However, I think that we have to make a distinction between those in the armed services and the emergency services who frequently risk their lives, and those who do extremely valuable voluntary work in the organisations to which the noble Lord referred in support of those services. I am sure the House will agree that there is a distinction here.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say what happened 25 years ago? Were these services honoured on that occasion?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, far fewer medals were distributed 25 years ago than will be distributed on this occasion. On this occasion, about 380,000 medals will be distributed as against 33,000 at the time of the Queen's Silver Jubilee. Although a very small number of medals were, I think, given to local services of one kind or another, voluntary services of this sort were not specifically honoured in this way.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, as a recipient of both the Silver and the Golden Jubilee Medal, may I ask why the police were not included in the Golden Jubilee? It seems to me extremely unfortunate that they were not included.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the police are to he included in the distribution of medals for the Golden Jubilee.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that a great deal of clearing up has to take place after these moments of national celebration? If medals are to be handed out, would it not be more appropriate to consider nurses, ambulance workers and the police, who have to bear the brunt of all of this?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I think that the noble Viscount's question illustrates the problem—a line has to be drawn somewhere. He is suggesting that we should include nurses, but if we were to include nurses, why not doctors? In the end, the list will become endless. So many people do great work in the public good. However, for this particular form of recognition, I think it right to draw a line and concentrate on the armed services and the emergency services who risk their lives in support of the public.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the Territorial Army has for more than 100 years played a vital part in the defence of the country, especially in the two Great Wars, and still do? Will the Government therefore consider a suitable number of awards to the Territorial Army?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, again, I can only reiterate what I have just said. Of course the Government recognise the important role of the Territorial Army. However, I think that it would be wrong for an endless list of people to be included in what I think has to be a rather special medal for those who risk their lives and limbs. There are many other ways in which we can recognise all the other groups whom Members of your Lordships' House would like to see given awards of one sort or another. That happens on a regular basis and should of course continue.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, has there been wide consultation on the criteria for distribution of the medal? The questions just asked by noble Lords seemed to cover the ambit of those involved in emergency services. As a member of a local authority. I shall extend that by saying that, in the past, such medals were offered also to local authority officials. Was such an award considered? If not, would the noble Baroness be kind enough to say yet again, probably for the fourth time, why they were not considered under the criteria? Most specifically, however, were the criteria consulted upon?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, consideration was of course given to local government; consideration was given to the Civil Service. However, there are other ways of recognising service given by officials whether locally or centrally. A decision was made, I believe rightly, to confine the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal to those who work for the armed services and the emergency services. We have, of course, received letters from some people who would like the particular groups of which they are members to be recognised. However, the number of letters we have received has been relatively small outside the request that was made by the police to which the Government listened and made the decision to extend the award to the emergency services.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, are we not in danger of forgetting that the Queen's Jubilee ought to be the occasion on which we and the nation honour Her Majesty rather than turning it into an occasion when we quibble about whom she ought to honour? Have we not perhaps got some of the argument the wrong way round?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I have to agree with what my noble friend said; that is what the Jubilee is all about. Everyone in the House will have some group which they feel should be included, but this occasion is about celebrating the Queen's 50 years on the throne and doing it in a way that people will greatly enjoy.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the lifeboat service is also included because its members risk their lives on a voluntary basis in arduous circumstances?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I confirm that the lifeboat service will be included as it is defined as an emergency service. Members of the lifeboat service risk their lives by going to sea in terrible conditions to rescue people in difficulty.

Noble Lords

Next Question!

Lord Elton

My Lords, we have 10 minutes for each Question as there are only three Questions. I sympathise with the noble Baroness and I understand why her noble friends have tried to conceal the position. However, I was astonished by her reply, if I understood it aright, with regard to the Territorial Army. Territorial soldiers are members of the Armed Forces. They are deployed abroad and in battle on our behalf even now. Why are they separated out from the rest of the Armed Forces and not treated the same? That has nothing to do with who is honouring whom, but if some soldiers are awarded the Jubilee Medal, surely all of them should.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am always happy to answer the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, whether seven, eight or nine minutes of Question Time have elapsed. I had better write to the noble Lord about the position of the Territorial Army after consulting my colleagues in the MoD.

Lord McNally

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Queen's Jubilee is a celebration of community and communities in our society? When I was a lad a lady called Alice Whalley was a pillar of the St John Ambulance. When she was honoured there was a celebration in the whole of our community. The Question refers specifically to the Red Cross, the St John Ambulance and the Women's Royal Voluntary Service. The members of those organisations are pillars of our community. This is a wonderful opportunity to honour and celebrate them. Does the Minister agree that in this case the line has been drawn wrongly by the Jubilee jobsworths? The Government should listen to the strong opinions of this House and, as they did with the police, draw the line to the other side of these wonderful voluntary services.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I have already said that the Government are looking at ways to recognise those who provide outstanding voluntary service and will make an announcement about that in due course. I can only repeat what I said. I do not accept what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said; namely, that the line has been drawn wrongly. Of course, these are outstanding services but there are many others too. All I can say is that there will be a never-ending series of requests for additional groups to be included unless the Government draw the line somewhere.

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