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Empire medal to be brought back

A medal for local heroes scrapped by John Major in 1993 as part of his bid to make the honours system "classless" is to be revived, David Cameron has announced.

Hundreds of British Empire Medals (BEM) will be awarded from next year, as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebration, in what will be seen as a fresh initiative in the Prime Minister's Big Society initiative.

Mr Cameron said too few individuals making a real difference in their areas were receiving MBEs - the honour which his predecessor as Conservative premier hoped they would receive instead.

First established in 1917, the BEM was specifically designed for those who "by virtue of their rank" did not qualify for an MBE and was seen as a working-class honour.

Mr Major, who has since been knighted, decided that the distinction had "become increasingly tenuous" and that he wanted more local people to receive their awards from the Queen herself - BEMs being awarded instead by lords lieutenant of the relevant county or local authority on her behalf.

The revived honour will also be bestowed by the lords lieutenant although recipients will be entitled to attend a Buckingham Palace garden party with others whose work has been recognised.

Around 300 a year will be bestowed, although the number is expected to be lower in the first year.

"I am delighted that we are going to start using the British Empire Medal again," said Mr Cameron, who is in Perth, Australia, for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

"The medal will be handed out in recognition of the dedication and hard work so many provide to their communities.

"At the moment, the number of people being honoured for the services they provide to their local communities is disproportionately low.

"I am determined to change that and redress the balance." PA