To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of the levels of discrimination against serving and former members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces.
My Lords, the Armed Forces covenant sets out the principles that those who serve in the Armed Forces, whether regular or reserve, those who have served in the past and their families should face no disadvantage compared with other citizens and that special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given most, such as the injured and the bereaved. Any discrimination against members of the Armed Forces community is to be abhorred, and we will continue to be alert to any cases which are brought to our attention. I believe that the vast majority of the population are hugely supportive of those who defend them.
My Lords, I agree with the Minister about that wide support. Saturday is Armed Forces Day. It will be a day of celebration. Never in recent times has the level of approval of the Armed Forces been so high. Nevertheless, despite the efforts of both parties, some members of the Armed Forces still have problems. The splendid report of the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft-I never thought that I would find myself saying that-found that in the past five years 20% have suffered verbal abuse, 5% have suffered violence or attempted violence, 18% have been refused service in hotels, pubs and elsewhere when wearing the uniform in the UK, and more than 25% have been refused a mortgage, loan or credit card. My right honourable friend Jim Murphy, the shadow Secretary of State, wrote to the Secretary of State on
My Lords, we thank my noble friend Lord Ashcroft for his very helpful report and are reassured by the high level of support for the Armed Forces that he mentions. The report provides pointers to areas requiring attention. We believe that education rather than legislation is the most effective way to combat discrimination. We can lead this if we work together on a cross-party basis in Parliament to celebrate the contribution of our Armed Forces. An example of this is having troops marching into Parliament on their return from Afghanistan and being given refreshments and tours by MPs and noble Lords. This is the initiative of the All-Party Group for the Armed Forces. In his letter to Jim Murphy, the Secretary of State said:
"I would welcome a discussion with you on how we can ensure that everything we do in Parliament emphasises our cross-party support for the Armed Forces and the people who serve in them".
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is not now that is the problem, as the Armed Forces have a high profile since they are engaged in combat and we have casualties coming back? We must do something that guarantees that we continue to take an interest when this conflict is over because discrimination usually increases during times of ignorance. Peace in Afghanistan may well bring this.
My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. The problem exists not just in the present but in the future. I entirely agree with him.
My Lords, the worst discrimination I ever suffered was shortly after meeting my wife, when she told me that the two most useless things in a sailing boat are an umbrella and a naval officer. Joking aside, the Minister referred to education. We need to educate young people about the importance of the services and one of the best ways of doing that is the cadet forces. Are we going to put more effort into getting CCF and other units into a broader spectrum of schools to try to encourage this?
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that question. The answer is yes, we are working very hard on that and we may have more to say on the issue in the days to come.
My Lords, first, I would tell them to get in contact with their chain of command, which will work closely with the civil police or other bodies, as appropriate, to address any problem. I understand one of the problems that they encounter is with mortgage lenders. Service personnel facing credit-rating difficulties because of time spent abroad should approach prospective mortgage lenders, and all prospective landlords or letting agents, to instruct their credit reference-checking agencies to undertake a manual check of the individual circumstances.
Does the Minister agree that discrimination can take many forms? With the repositioning of Armed Forces personnel from Germany over the coming years, one area of concern may well be about the opportunity for their children to have access to the schools that their parents want them to go to and to get on the doctor's list in the area that they wish. Does he agree that we may need to review the covenant, which is an extremely good initiative, to ensure that the families of Armed Forces personnel are not indirectly discriminated against?
My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a very good point about children's education and doctors. This is an area that we are looking at very closely.
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. A great deal can be done by local communities. Community covenants are voluntary statements of mutual support between the civilian community and its local Armed Forces community in the form of a written pledge. These local partnerships are usually made between the Armed Forces in an area and the local authority and joined by local business organisations, charities and other public bodies as appropriate.