Icy hush falls on polar medal quango

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The Independent Online
THE MOST secret quango in Britain does not deal with Northern Ireland, national security or the future of interest rate policy - but with the award of medals to arctic explorers.

All attempts by Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle to get the Ministry of Defence to reveal the names of the six members of the United Kingdom Polar Medal Assessment Committee have been met with a blank refusal to comment.

'I'm being told, in effect, that if people know who gives out the medals they'll all want them,' said the Labour MP for Liverpool Walton.

Mr Kilfoyle has launched a one-man campaign to find the names and backgrounds of the estimated 73,000 people appointed by Government to quangos and advisory boards which take up one third of public expenditure.

To date he has filed 700 parliamentary questions demanding ministers reveal the identities of the quangocrats. It took an appeal to speaker Betty Boothroyd before Jeremy Hanley, the junior defence minister, released the names of the members on nine MoD quangos. But he refused to discuss the Polar Medal Committee.

'To ensure that the advice from members of honours committees is fair and impartial, and to avoid lobbying of members, it is Government practice not to publish details of the composition of committees responsible for the award of honours,' he said in a written answer.

The small band of eminent Arctic and Antarctic scientists and explorers eligible to receive a polar medal was surprised last week by the suggestion that they would resort to strong-arm tactics if they knew who handed out the gongs.

'I'm sure that no one would do anything disreputable,' said a geologist with the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge. Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham- Fiennes, who received a polar medal in 1987 after various trips to both ends of the earth, said he had no idea who had selected him.

However, a senior defence source broke official secrecy and revealed yesterday that Rear Admiral John Myres, Hydrographer of the Navy, was on the committee.

Anyone wishing to demand a polar medal can write to him, care of the MoD.