George Cross is presented to RUC

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The Royal Ulster Constabulary was yesterday presented with the George Cross as the Government refused to shelve plans for its radical reform.

Presenting the George Cross - the highest civilian gallantry award - the Queen spoke of the "terrible price" paid by the force, which lost 302 members to terrorist action.

Constable Paul Slaine, who lost both legs in an IRA rocket attack eight years ago, received the honour on behalf of the force at a ceremony at Hillsborough Castle, Co Down.

The Queen said: "This award is an exceptional recognition of the outstanding contribution made by the Royal Ulster Constabulary to peace in Northern Ireland. It is a singular acknowledgement of the gallantry and courage shown, and in all too many cases the ultimate sacrifice paid, by the members of the constabulary during the past 30 years of terrorism and civil unrest."

In the Commons, William Hague, the Tory leader, called on Tony Blair to shelve security sensitive measures until a lasting peace had been established in Ulster. He also questioned the proposal to change the name of the RUC. He was assured by the Prime Minister that the Government would take "no risks whatever with security in Northern Ireland".

Staff cuts in the RUC, from 13,500 to 7,500 people, were "dependent on the security situation," he said. However, the Prime Minister's official spokesman made it clear that the change of name of the RUC to the Police Service of Northern Ireland would go ahead.

Peter Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has hinted that there could be a compromise over the plan to remove the crown from the force's cap badge.