[Mr Don Touhig: ... In January 2006, the veterans were given permission to accept but not wear the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal – the PJM – which is a decoration instituted by His Majesty the King of Malaysia to commemorate the services of British and Commonwealth forces in safeguarding Malaysia's sovereignty during the conflict. The PJM honours the valour and sacrifices made by forces that served in Malaysia between 1957 and 1966. I welcomed the decision by Her Majesty the Queen, acting on the advice of the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals, to grant permission to the 35,000 veterans who took part in that operation to receive that medal. However, the decision of that Committee – commonly known as the HD Committee – to advise Her Majesty that the medal could be accepted but not worn is the most disgraceful and insensitive act by faceless mandarins in Whitehall that I have ever encountered. ...
The Minister for the Middle East (Dr Kim Howells): ... I am informed that allowing the PJM (Pingat Jasa Malaysia) medal to be accepted required the HD committee to agree a special exception to two principles governing the acceptance and wear of foreign awards. The first ... is double medalling, whereby a British award has been given for the same service. The second is the five-year rule, which does not allow medals to be accepted for events that took place more than five years ago. ... However, the HD committee argues that the absence of a General Service Medal should not, in itself, mean automatic qualification for a foreign award. ...]
Dr Julian Lewis: What the Minister has just said is hard to understand. It is not for the committee to decide whether British service personnel who did not qualify for the British award should be eligible for a foreign award. The Government of Malaysia have decided that all those service personnel are eligible to receive the award. Surely the point is that those who for any reason did not receive the British General Service Medal and Malaya clasp should therefore be eligible to wear the PJM medal because it is not a case of double medalling. Will the Minister focus on that when he takes away the argument, which he is evidently quite unhappy to have been given by his officials?
[Dr Howells: The hon. Gentleman has put the matter clearly, and that is why I described it as an anomalous variable in an already difficult equation. It is difficult to understand why that exception should be made. I shall argue that it should not. ... In reaching its decision on the PJM, I am told that the committee considered the importance of British involvement in the Malaysian campaign in the histories of both Malaysia and the United Kingdom in the years between 1957 and 1966, the generous gesture of the King of Malaysia and the principles on which the UK honours system is based. I hope that the committee's members heard what my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Don Touhig) said: that the generosity of the people of Malaysia, His Majesty the King of Malaysia and the Government of Malaysia carries with it a great deal of political significance.
We heard that other exceptions have been made which were probably based on considerations with such political significance. For example, I know about the sterling work that the hon. Member for New Forest, East did on the Murmansk medal and the Arctic convoys. The agreement to award the medal was seen as a gesture of our increasing friendship and relationship with the newly emerging Russian democracy. That is an important point to make, and my right hon. Friend reminded us that not many countries that could be described as overwhelmingly Islamic have decided to honour us in such a way and honour veterans who helped to carve out those countries in the first place. That is an important and significant political fact.]
[For Julian's speech in this Debate, click here.]