War glory comes cheap

Heroism/ military medals cost less
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JOHN MAJOR'S new honours may be classless, but they are far from equal in value. The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, awarded for the first time last week, to an Army corporal who fought a gun battle with a score of Bosnian Serbs, is worth a fraction of the amount spent on traditional honours for senior civil servants and diplomats.

The silver medal, one of Mr Major's new decorations awarded to both officers and other ranks, and second in importance only to the VC, would cost between £100 and £400 to produce, say medal manufacturers. Yet decorations dominated by captains of industry, politicians and civil servants cost thousands of pounds, figures released for the first time by the Government last month show.

Traditional gongs still bring with them the most valuable insignia, often with collar chains, medals and sashes. The Order of Merit, the sole gift of the Queen, has insignia worth £3,650, according to information released by the Treasury to Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West. The Order of St Michael and St George - mainly reserved for diplomats - brings with it medals, collar chains and badges which can cost more than £3,000. Insignia for Knight Commander, KCMG - popularly known as "Kindly call me God" - costs £2,106 to produce. GCMG, Knight Grand Cross, or "God calls me God", costs £3,231.

But decorations for valour, and honours for those outside the establishment, cost far less. The CGC, awarded to Cpl Wayne Mills of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment for leading his UN foot patrol in a fighting retreat after a Serb attack nearGorazde in April last year, is a simple silver cross with a representation of St Edward's crown in the centre, and was produced at the Royal Mint. Production costs are "commercially sensitive", but medal manufacturers say that the decoration would cost less than £400, and possibly as little as £100 after the dies - engraved stamps from which the medals are produced - are made.

In three years, spending on decorations is expected to go up by a third, according to government figures. In 1993-94, £477,000 was spent producing about 1,500 decorations. But in 1996-97 the Government expects the cost to rise to £677,000.

Labour MPs say that the cost of some decorations is excessive. "It does seem to be an astronomical amount, especially when injured war heroes get less than £10,000 compensation," said Mr Flynn, who last week tabled more questions on the subject. "It's the expensive ones that seem so unreasonable. Why on earth do they need to cost so much?"

One exception is the Order of the Garter, to be awarded to Baroness Thatcher next month. As there are only 24 members of the order, the insignia are recycled.

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