As I have said previously, I do not intend to hold up the formation of the new Ministry of Defence medal office by delaying the closure of the Army Medal Office at Droitwich Spa. Although I commend the hon. Member for his concern for his constituents, I am convinced that the investment of effort now to modernise medal delivery will be to the ultimate benefit of veterans and today's serving personnel.
In the current edition of Soldier magazine, the staff of the Chief of the General Staff, General Jackson, say:
"There is a widespread and strongly held view that . . . the administration of pay and allowances is still failing our people."
General Jackson himself says:
"It is well known that our pay and administration hardware is creaking at the seams".
However, that is precisely the organisation into which the Minister proposes to merge the Army Medal Office at Droitwich Spa, at a site the future of which is itself uncertain—RAF Innsworth. Does he not understand that, whatever the long-term benefits may or may not be—I think they are illusory—the inevitable short-term consequences will be that Suez veterans die before they receive their Suez medals and that Iraqi veterans will experience unacceptable delays in receiving their medals?
The Suez medal is one from this Government to those veterans. I was in Wolverhampton on Saturday, where I joined members of the Suez veterans' club in presenting three of the latest Suez veterans' medals. We in this Government have righted an injustice to ensure that those Suez veterans have a medal.
As for the hon. Gentleman's comments about the medal office, we have been through the issue already at some length. I have answered 21 questions from him in the past six weeks, all on that specific issue. That is why I commend him for his work on behalf of his constituents, but none of his questions suggest to me that the decision should be changed and that we should not have a single Ministry of Defence medal office, based at Innsworth, because we have the space, the capability and, eventually, the efficiency to improve medal delivery.
It is a bit rich for the Government to claim credit for the issuing of the Suez canal medal and clasp, when they did so under pressure from hon. Members on both sides of the House, as they know. Given the difficulty faced in the issuing of those medals and clasps, which is likely to take at least two years to complete, what effect will the closure of the Army Medal Office have on the issuing of the Artic Convoy medal, when the Government are eventually forced into issuing that medal, too—a commitment given by the Leader of the Opposition, but not yet endorsed by the Government? However, we can be as sure as anything that, when they do endorse it, they will claim credit for having done so all along.
I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, will never miss an opportunistic moment to make an opportunistic point—that is exactly what he does—but let me inform the House that, so far, as of last Friday, we have had 39,666 applications, of which 9,709 have been dispatched. I very much regret that there continue to be problems with the dispatch of the Suez medal, but I am taking action to put that right. That is an important thing that we should do. We are taking action, whereas the Conservative Government never did, and it will improve medal delivery in the longer term.