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Arctic Star

Volume 454: debated on Monday 11 December 2006

To date, more than 6,500 applications for the new Arctic emblem have been processed and passed to the Veterans Agency for dispatch. As a result of the publicity from the many launch events that were held around the country—including, I understand, a successful one arranged by my hon. Friend in Nottingham—several hundred new applications have been received in recent weeks. Officials are working hard to process those applications, but the volume received means that it will take a few weeks to dispatch some of the emblems.

On behalf of Members of all parties who have campaigned for years to bring this injustice to an end and to get the Arctic convoy veterans properly recognised, may I put on record my thanks to the Minister and his predecessors for the effort that they put in to ensure that this injustice was righted? May I also put on record my thanks to the Secretary of State, who has clearly brought about a different attitude in the Department on these matters, particularly in the recognition of the people who were shot for desertion in the first world war and of the Arctic convoy veterans? The fact that the Secretary of State and his team have taken an interest in this makes a great difference.

First, may I praise the work that my hon. Friend has done over the years in campaigning on this matter? I cannot take any credit, because things were all done and dusted as I came into my post, so credit must go to my predecessors for the work that they had done. As he will recall, the launch event on HMS Belfast was a moving experience, because we met those veterans and listened to the stories of bravery, courage and the pure hardship that they had to go through. I am pleased that this news has been well received by those veterans.

Of course, we should recognise injustices in terms of campaign medals. Will the Minister consider rectifying a similar injustice in respect of those in Bomber Command who have not received a medal for their participation?

They did receive an operational medal for what they did. I want to put on record my recognition of the courage, perseverance and professionalism that they showed, but I cannot agree to what the hon. Lady is requesting.

May I tell my hon. Friend that I and a great many others were encouraged by a letter that he sent me on 24 November, in which he made it clear that he intends to be the veterans’ champion and to press the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals to allow our servicemen who fought in Malaysia the right to wear the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal? In making those representations, would it assist him if more right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House were to sign early-day motion 356, which is in my name, and early-day motion 375, which stands in the name of the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates)?

I am aware of the work that my right hon. Friend has been doing on this issue and of the early-day motion that he tabled. He has made many representations to me. He will be aware, as I think he confirmed just now, that I have made clear what the veterans’ views and wishes on this issue are. I am sure that there will be ongoing discussions, but the Foreign Office takes the lead on this.