The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday 19 July.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like expand on the apology delivered by the Prime Minister this afternoon for the unacceptable hurt caused to LGBT members of our nation’s Armed Forces by the 1967 to 2000 ban on homosexuality. It was not acceptable and it was not what the brave men and women it affected deserved. For that, on behalf of the Government and the Armed Forces, I am deeply sorry.
For hundreds of years, joining the British Armed Forces has been a career choice full of opportunity, adventure and self-improvement; one of the most fulfilling and stimulating occupations a young person can choose. But it is also one of self-sacrifice and bravery. This morning, we published the independent review into the service and experience of LGBT veterans who served prior to 2000. It makes for miserable and distressing reading. It is only right that the House takes the time to acknowledge and reflect on those veterans who have shared their experiences with the review.
I, along with a number of colleagues in the House, served in our Armed Forces when the ban was in place. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for someone to join the Armed Forces, buoyed up by that great spirit of service, only to discover, to their horror, that many believed they did not fit. I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to be hounded out of a job they loved simply on account of their sexuality. Nor can I imagine what it must have been like to lose their livelihood, their family and their home simply because of the person they chose to love, yet that was the experience of many sailors, soldiers and aviators over decades, and it happened here—in this country—little over 20 years ago. The report published today brings the experience to life for us and spotlights the hurt felt by those affected. For that, I am truly grateful.
The ban was introduced in 1967—unbelievably, after the Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised same-sex sexual acts in private between consenting adults. To add to the injustice, when the ban ended at the beginning of the millennium, the stories of those who suffered were forgotten and their records were buried. Additionally, in 2010 and 2011, in line with Government policy agreed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Ministry of Defence enacted a policy to destroy legacy police investigation records concerning decriminalised sexual offences, so that historical decriminalised convictions could not show up on criminal record checks of service personnel. I assure veterans that this was not a cover-up and does not mean that their wider service records have been destroyed.
I want to place on the record my thanks and gratitude to Lord Etherton and his team for compiling this comprehensive report. It was commissioned in January 2022 and, since, 1,128 people have responded with their experiences, many in substantial detail. I pay particular tribute to all those who came forward. They have shown tremendous courage in chronicling traumatic experiences, which for many had been causing grief and groundless shame for decades. I also place on record my admiration and thanks to Fighting With Pride, and especially Craig and Caroline, who have held the baton for so long.
The testimonies make truly harrowing reading. They paint a shocking and shameful picture of a Defence that is hard to comprehend. The enforcement of the ban became something of a witch hunt. The testimonies detail investigations, invasive searches and examinations, degrading tests, brutal bullying and, in some cases, sexual abuse. One doctor who joined in 1984 describes how he had to perform a test for which there was no medical or clinical basis. Some who thought they could confide in their chaplains were stunned to find their details were passed to their superiors.
For those affected, the hardships impacted every aspect of their lives. Reputations were demeaned and defamed. Commissions were surrendered and officers demoted by multiple ranks. Veterans who served with distinction, awarded medals in famous campaigns from the Falklands to the Gulf, were stripped of their medals.
We cannot turn back the clock, but we can make amends and take action. This report makes 49 recommendations. My department, alongside the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, the Department for Health and Social Care and others across Government, in partnership with the devolved Administrations and the charity sector, all have a role in delivering the report’s recommendations. Many in the LGBT veteran community have been eagerly awaiting the publication of this report, and rightly so—they have been waiting for decades to be heard. I am pleased to say that, since we received this report at the end of May, multiple government departments have been busy working through the recommendations to ensure that we come to the House today accepting, in principle, the vast majority of the report’s recommendations. While we agree with the intent behind them, we may deliver a number in different ways from that described in the report.
We will set out those differences when we publish the Government’s full response to the review after the summer recess, but I assure the House: that will be the time when we can not only deliver restitution and redress to the LGBT veteran community, but make sure that the House properly debates the report and the Government’s response to it and its recommendations. This of course is a statement today. While I welcome all colleagues’ challenges and requests on it, I have decided specifically that a debate in the House should take place to give a chance to debate the Government’s recommendations. That is the right thing to do. Although that may take the summer, it is important that both Opposition and our colleagues can hold me or my successor to account. In fact, we have already delivered six of the recommendations today; the Prime Minister delivered the first this morning at the Dispatch Box.
Importantly, we have set up a digital front door, which went live today at midday, to offer information on veterans’ services, support and restorative measures to those affected by the ban. I encourage LGBT veterans to visit it to see what support is available to them now, and to stay informed as our delivery of the recommendations is rolled out. I am happy to be drawn on further details on the recommendations during today’s questions but, as I said, the House should have proper time to debate and scrutinise them.
I am glad that today’s MoD is a very different place today from the Defence of the late ’60s to ’90s. Our LGBT colleagues are an integral and undifferentiated part of the Defence family, making a fantastic difference all over the world. At the start of this month, the Minister for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families, my right honourable friend the Member for South West Wiltshire, Dr Murrison, met LGBT members of our Armed Forces and veterans before they marched at London Pride. The occasion has become a celebrated part of our military calendar. Today’s MoD policies are geared towards LGBT issues. There is training for LGBT allies and thriving LGBT staff networks.
There is no place for prejudice in the modern Armed Forces. However, things are by no means perfect, which is why we continue to improve on our zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination. We should not forget that we could not have reached this point were it not for some incredibly brave people. I pay tribute to those who have campaigned for justice over the decades, including Fighting With Pride, Rank Outsiders and the Armed Forces Legal Action Group.
Cultural change takes time, particularly in such large organisations as our Armed Forces. But it can only really begin when individuals are prepared to stand up and be counted. This Government have shown they care about righting historic wrongs. That is why we brought forward this review. Once we have taken the time needed to fully work out how to deliver recompense for this community, we look forward to being back at the Dispatch Box to outline those details.
In his preface to the report, Lord Etherton notes:
‘The survivors have waited for at least 23 years for acknowledgment of what they have suffered, and for justice and restitution.’
Today is about that acknowledgment. It is about recognising the saddening personal accounts and the deep traumatic hurt that the historic ban has caused. It is about acknowledging the adversity they overcame. It is about celebrating the spirit of service they displayed. And it is about taking the time to acknowledge their importance within our Defence family, serving or veteran.
I was struck by one particular quote in the report from a veteran:
‘I don’t feel I am a veteran. I have never asked for help. I don’t feel like my service was recognised.’
Today, we want to say to all those ex-soldiers, sailors and aviators, many of whom are in retirement: you are one of us, you belong to our community and, in choosing to put yourself in harm’s way for the good of your colleagues, your community and your country, you have proven yourselves the best of us.
I say again to the veteran community—I am deeply sorry for what happened to you. The very tolerance and values of a western democracy that we expected you to fight for we denied to you. It was profoundly wrong. I am determined as Defence Secretary, and as a veteran, to do all I can today to right those historic wrongs, so that you can once again take pride in your service and inspire future generations to follow in your footsteps.”
My Lords, I begin once again by associating His Majesty’s Opposition with the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, and thank them for their full and heartfelt apologies yesterday following the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, which highlighted the appalling and disgusting treatment of LGBT+ military personnel between 1967 and 2000. I also pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for his excellent report, and to fellow Peers such as the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, and my noble friend Lord Cashman, who have continually raised these issues with other Members of your Lordships’ House. It is an outstanding report by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton.
I spent much of this morning reading the report, which highlights this disgraceful policy and its consequences. It is worth reminding ourselves what it was. I make no apologies for quoting from the report again and putting it on record:
“The policy was that no person subject to service law who was gay, lesbian, transgender or transitioning due to gender dysphoria, or who was perceived to be such, even if they were not in fact, could be or remain a member of the armed forces”.
The consequences of this were horrific, and have only now been truly exposed through the bravery of those who suffered. One can only imagine the strength and courage that it has taken for these individuals to come forward. In the call for action, 1,128 responses were received. Harrowing stories are told by these men and women—service personnel who would, or indeed have, put their lives at risk for their country in defence of our freedom and liberty.
This is not in some bygone age centuries ago but in all our lifetimes, right up until the year 2000. Some 20,000 LGBT+ veterans were jailed, dismissed, outed to their families, assaulted or abused, often sexually. Many lost jobs, pensions and honours and could not wear their uniforms at remembrance events—not to mention the impact on their self-worth and self-esteem. It is important that these testimonies and this evidence are heard, as individuals recall what happened to them.
In particular, I will recount one such piece of evidence, which seemed to me to sum up the horrific prejudice that led to these barbaric and sickening practices. Page 64 of the report says that, on HMS “Norfolk”, one of our warships,
“there was a Defence Council Instruction … kept in the sickbay safe called ‘Unnatural Offences’”.
This testimony says that gay people were labelled “deviants” and “disgusting”. The instruction set out procedures for an “intrusive forensic medical exam”—unbelievable. Testimony after testimony shows the consequences of this shocking prejudice.
The report details a number of helpful and important recommendations that cannot undo what happened but can try to put right, as far as possible, the continuing hurt, pain and injustice. Can the Minister outline how these various recommendations are to be implemented and how we will ensure that this is done quickly? How will we ensure that all those who are eligible are made aware of their entitlements under these new processes? How is eligibility to be defined?
The Defence Secretary said that the intent of some of the recommendations is accepted but will be delivered in a different way. Which recommendations are these, and will discussions continue with LGBT+ veterans’ groups and individuals to ensure their consent to this approach? Is there any timeframe for the application for the restoration of pension rights, compensation or financial assistance, and the restoration of medals? Will all military personnel affected by this ban now be rightfully entitled to wear their military uniform or, where it has been confiscated from them, have it returned in time for this year’s remembrance events? The Defence Secretary rightly spoke of the need for a “zero-tolerance” approach in our Armed Forces today. Can the Minister outline how we are ensuring that this is the case and that anyone who has concerns today can come forward, be supported and, where necessary, have the appropriate action taken?
This was an appalling failure by many Governments. Men and women bravely serving their country were subject to the most appalling abuse—a policy officially sanctioned. This is a scandal of immense proportions that we must put right. We cannot undo the past, but we must do all we can, as quickly as we can, to put right this historic injustice. So many still live with the horrors of the past; the least they can expect is for us to do all we can to bring, as far as we can, their nightmare to an end as soon as possible.
My Lords, from these Benches I too very much welcome the report from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. We talked about some of these issues yesterday, but it is absolutely right to put on the record again how wrong it was that the ban was in place and to give the apologies of this nation to those who were forced to leave Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, whether because they were homosexual or because they were perceived to be so.
The history is shocking. The ban was wrong, but the way it was enforced was absolutely repugnant. The report gives testimony after testimony from former LGBT members of the Armed Forces and those who were not LGBT but, in some cases, were perceived to be so. How on earth could we have had a piece of legislation that even talked about someone being “perceived to be” so? Who was supposed to make the decisions or the judgment about how somebody looked, dressed or walked? What world had we taken ourselves into, and what right did the Ministry of Defence have to put forward a set of rules for men and women who only wanted to serve their country in the best way possible?
There is a tragic case, outlined on pages 78 and 79, of somebody now in their sixties who had only ever wanted to be a Royal Marine, and at 15 they were finally allowed to sign up and put their name forward. Then, after a drunken night out, another male youngster, also of 16, ended up in his bed. The person who gave their testimony now was not homosexual but was subjected to an examination that, as he said, was not with his consent, and he was forced to leave the Royal Marines. As a country, we need to do everything possible to make reparations to those who lost their careers and their dignity.
The cases outlined here are tragic. Following some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I would like the Minister to give the House a sense of the timeline that His Majesty’s Government have in mind for responding to all the recommendations in this report and, where they do not accept the recommendations, to make explicit what alternatives are being put in place to ensure that justice finally can be given to veterans and the families of those who have already died. There is a suggestion in here of a recommendation that interested parties who are sufficiently close should be able to make a case for veterans who have passed away, or perhaps committed suicide because of the way they were treated. I would like to know what His Majesty’s Government propose for people being able to bring cases, whether legislation is going to be brought forward and what role Parliament will play, because we all need to make sure that any changes and reparations are done in a timely manner. We are talking about justice being denied for at least 23 years, but for many people more than half a century. This needs to be rectified as soon as possible.
Finally, in light of the comments in both the report and the Secretary of State’s Statement on Wednesday, can the Minister reassure the House that nobody in His Majesty’s Armed Forces today faces injustice and prejudice because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, or even—heaven forbid—the perception of either of these, because we really need to have moved on?
My Lords, I thank both the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their very helpful introductory remarks and observations, with which I entirely associate myself, particularly their passionately expressed sentiments about just how wrong, unjustifiable and unacceptable this ban was, not to mention its brutal enforcement. I said yesterday that I pay tribute particularly to the courage of those who have come forward, and I hope that by doing so they will feel that, at long last, they have been able to speak in safety, knowing that their testimonies will not just add cogency to the report, which they have done, but be respected, and that there will be a genuine attempt by government to respond to the appalling, atrocious experiences they endured.
I will deal specifically with some of the points raised. Before doing so, I will move some of the glasses next to the Dispatch Box; it is a bit like a cocktail bar here. It is slightly less enlivening in the imbibing sense, but still slightly cluttered.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, was interested in the broad frame of eligibility. I double-checked that myself and think that it is pretty explicit from the terms of reference given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. In particular, page 212 of the report says that the intention is that this should be
That is a qualifying criterion. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord reiterates that on page 251, when he comes to deal with:
“Restitution, recognition and just satisfaction”.
I cite that to clarify these aspects.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, also asked about implementation, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. I can confirm that a full implementation plan with details on how those affected can access restorative measures will be published in due course. I can further confirm that a government website page went live online yesterday to give further guidance. With specific reference to that plan, I would say that nothing is intended to be either elusive or evasive about this response.
As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made clear in the other place yesterday, we have to consult over the summer with all the interested groups that have been so supportive and helpful to the noble and learned Lord in contributing to his review and report, and we have to discuss with them how best we can deliver on the recommendations. My right honourable friend also indicated yesterday that, while we absolutely accept in full the spirit of the recommendations, there may be some areas where we have to look at delivery in a slightly different fashion. If your Lordships look at the breadth of the recommendations, it is fairly clear that they cover a wide spectrum of delivery agencies—some will be within the control of the Westminster Government, others not—but the noble and learned Lord has very helpfully provided further advice as to how he thinks the other agencies should approach these responsibilities.
“an example: the veterans badge”.—[
We agree, in principle, that it absolutely should be given. However, some members of the LGBT community would say that they are veterans, so they want to be part of the whole veteran family and do not wish to be differentiated; they want the same badge as everyone else. Then there are others who want a separated badge—so there is no easy answer at the moment as to how we approach this. That is indicative of the kind of discussion that will be necessary over the summer months, requiring careful, engaged and sensitive discussions with those who can help to inform us.
The same goes for financial provision. Again, there will be, I think, hugely varying views from applicants as to what they seek, and there has to be sensible determination about how the applications will be treated, particularly in relation to pensions. As your Lordships will be aware, there is now a website giving advice and either the information is on yesterday’s new website or there is a link to where such advice can be received.
As my right honourable friend made clear yesterday in the other place, and as I make clear, we are very happy to work with the Opposition. We would welcome discussions and contributions, because this is not about party politics; this is about the British state, through all our different agencies and all the different existing conduits, doing whatever we can to deliver this long-awaited restoration, compensation and recognition of just how badly things went wrong.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, specifically asked about uniforms. Yes, veterans who were dismissed will be able to wear their uniforms. He also asked about the Remembrance Day service this year. It would be a very laudable objective for that to be achieved, and I am sure that it will be very prominent in the discussions over the summer. I want to assure your Lordships that this is an open door; the Government want to do everything possible to facilitate delivery of the recommendations.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked in particular about deceased veterans. The intention is that, yes, representatives of deceased veterans should be able to benefit from the recommendations in the report.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, has suggested a time period of 24 months for everyone. That is sufficient to allow everyone to be informed of what is happening. I hope that, if people wish to avail themselves of the recommendations, restitutions, rights and entitlements that the noble and learned Lord laid out, this will be sufficient time for them to activate that.
I have a little note here to assist me. I can indicate to your Lordships that six of the recommendations have already been implemented; it might be helpful for noble Lords to know that. Yesterday, we implemented recommendation 1, which is about apologies, both in the other place and in this Chamber. Recommendation 4 is about Armed Forces veterans’ badges. They should be given; there is a link on GOV.UK and, as I say, there is just a decision to be made about what form this is to take. Recommendation 5 says that medals should be restored. Absolutely; provision has been made for that and, again, there is a link to inform veterans. Recommendation 6 concerns campaign medals. Where these were with withheld, they should be restored; again, advice is available. I mentioned pension rights; steps have been taken to provide clarification on those. Recommendation 25 is that Sections 194 and 195 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 should be brought into force; action has been taken to achieve that. I lay these out merely to reassure your Lordships that there is a very serious direction of travel here.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, mentioned two things. One was the case of a Royal Marine. I wish to say that I read that case with absolute horror. I found it quite extraordinary that a 16 year-old, a complete innocent in the Armed Forces environment who was away from home, could be treated at that age as that individual was. We know that there were lasting consequences; that is explicit from the evidence. All I can say is that I hope they are one of the witnesses who feel that something positive has happened as a result of their courage in deciding to give their testimony to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton.
Finally, the noble Baroness asked whether I could give an assurance that no one today faces such prejudice. I can give an absolute assurance that mechanisms exist to ensure that anybody who faces such absolutely unacceptable behaviour will be dealt with. This requires, in the current Armed Forces, people being prepared to speak up. We recognise that that is still a difficult thing to do, but we have made it clear that we have both simplified the complaints procedure and introduced an element of independence to that procedure. We are told that many people find that helpful and reassuring and that it gives them confidence to call out behaviour, whether it is to do with the LGBT community or any other form of unacceptable behaviour.
As noble Lords will be aware, we have also reformed our approach to the service justice system, again to ensure that it is simpler, that it is much easier for the victim to use and that, at all stages, support and help are being given. It would be absolutely marvellous if I could stand at this Dispatch Box and guarantee that no one will ever be inappropriately addressed or be the victim of unacceptable conduct, but we live in a life where human beings are not perfect. However, we certainly have procedures in place to ensure that, if any such completely unacceptable conduct takes place, there are mechanisms by which it can be addressed.
I have tried to address the points that have been made. As ever, I will check Hansard and, if I have missed anything out, I shall undertake to write.
My Lords, having yesterday expressed the hope that the House would be given an opportunity to comment on the Secretary of State for Defence’s Statement yesterday, perhaps I may now express gratitude that such an opportunity has been provided at such an early point, even though it prevents me speaking in the debate in the Grand Committee as I had intended.
The report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, is a truly remarkable document of some 270 pages which reveals suffering on a truly appalling scale, as we all agree across the House. I want to raise a few points about the Government’s response to it.
First, will it not be vital for carefully co-ordinated work to be done across government departments to ensure that action in response to the 49 recommendations made by the noble and learned Lord is successfully implemented? Has an implementation team been set up to provide direction and momentum for the necessary work?
On pensions, will the Government follow the recommendation that the MoD should invite LGBT veterans to seek clarification as to their entitlement to a service pension where they have not received any pension but believe they were entitled to it?
I also express the hope that the Government will consider very carefully the important recommendations in relation to memorialisation, particularly a public memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum.
Finally, will the Government commit to updating the relevant discharge papers of LGBT people, as recommended, and, if necessary, introduce legislation contained in Annexe 10 of the report to record officially that discharge was unjust and unfair? That would be very much in line with the recent extension of the disregard and pardon schemes to service personnel that I worked over many years with the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and Professor Paul Johnson to achieve.
I thank my noble friend for his presence here today—we are the beneficiaries of that presence, even if the Committee elsewhere is a loser. I thank him too for his clearly expressed wish yesterday that we should have a little more time to discuss this matter. In answering his Question yesterday, I deliberately took fewer questions, because I thought it was important for the Chamber to understand the broader hinterland of how the Government were responding to and proposed to deal with the noble and learned Lord’s report. I am delighted that we have had a broader opportunity to discuss it today.
I can reassure my noble friend that cross-government activity has already been happening in anticipation of the report. He is absolutely correct that cross-government activity will be critical. It will also involve reaching out to devolved Administrations, because they will be involved in implementing some of the recommendations. On the team, certainly within the MoD we have a very well resourced and skilful directorate dealing with these matters. They will be the lead presence in the MoD. Again, because of the widespread awareness of and interest in the report, I reassure my noble friend that we will be communing at top level with other relevant offices—because the Office for Veterans’ Affairs is also involved—to make sure that there is leadership through the summer to supervise this.
On pensions, my noble friend is quite right that there has been doubt and uncertainty as to who is eligible. Advice is now available on the website to which I referred. I hope that will be helpful to potential applicants.
My noble friend raised the issue of the desire for a memorial to be an enduring acknowledgment and testament to those who were so badly treated. My understanding is that the National Memorial Arboretum is administered by independent trustees, so this may be one area where we absolutely understand the spirit of what the recommendations wish to achieve but where the power of delivery may be slightly beyond either the MoD or the Office for Veterans’ Affairs.
On the matter of discharge papers, I too looked at that recommendation and think it a very reasonable one to make. Subject to the administrative challenges of identifying papers and personnel records, the desire would be to absolutely ensure that these papers were amended and issued as they should have been originally.
My Lords, I first became involved in this issue in 1991 when, along with Robert Ely and Elaine Chambers, the founders of Rank Outsiders, I gave evidence to the Armed Forces Select Committee to lift the ban. The ban was duly and rightly lifted by the courage of Duncan Lustig-Prean, Jeanette Smith, John Beckett and Graeme Grady, who with Stonewall took the case through the courts to the European Court of Human Rights.
I see this rather brilliant report as the final part of the mosaic of reparation and national apology. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, has become somewhat embarrassed by the adulation that he and the report are receiving. My advice to him is to get used to it, because it is going to go on for a very long time, so long as this report is read and referred to. Therefore, I come to my question and my recommendation to the Minister, which I raised yesterday. As the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, indicated, the work that he and I—with Professor Paul Johnson and others and, indeed, the Minister—have done has widened the pardons and disregards to include the armed services. Working cross-party, we have shown what we can achieve by working together. In that respect, I urge the Minister to consider, at departmental level, bringing forward, as I have suggested before, a small task force to oversee the implementation of the 49 recommendations and indeed the additional suggestions. We have six under way, with 43 more to go. I think a task force that oversees how they are being undertaken and, I might say, enforced, will enable the House to call on the department periodically to report back on the progress of the implementation of the recommendations and suggestions of the independent review.
I thank the noble Lord and pay tribute to him for his passion, commitment and dogged pursuit of justice for those who were so badly wronged over so many years. I join him in the accolades he has extended to my noble friend Lord Lexden and of course the academic Professor Paul Johnson. I know they have all been instrumental in pushing forward, and doing that with great determination, energy and vigour. We are indebted to them for the dogged determination they have shown and we see the fruits of this today.
On the matter of the small task force, I hear what the noble Lord says. I am very happy to take that back to the department and see if we bring greater clarity to the concern of your Lordships that this should be constantly monitored, supervised and progress measured. I totally understand all that; I will take that suggestion back and undertake to reply to him.
My Lords, I declare an interest as patron of Opening Doors, the charity for older LGBT people. In that capacity I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, very much for bringing to the attention of the nation the stories of individuals—some of whom I have known for over 30 years—and explaining to the nation the harm that was done to these people.
I want to raise a very few specific issues with the Minister. First, because I know some of these people, I know there is something that happened a lot. Compassionate officers resorted to euphemism or other excuses to try to minimise the harm of implementing a policy, which sometimes they had to do against their better judgment. It is quite often the case that people had to leave the service, but their records do not state explicitly the actual reason. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether, in the implementation of this report, there will be latitude given when people come forward for consideration to be included under this policy.
Secondly, and related to that, the disproportionate effect on women is something that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, notes in his report. I think that, quite often, women suffered a great deal in silence. Therefore, I ask whether and how particular attention will be paid to the experience of women who were badly affected by this policy.
Thirdly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, talks about health in general terms. I understand why, and I am glad that he does. However, given the time period that we are talking about, it is remarkable that there is no mention of HIV. Because of a particular Answer that the noble Baroness gave to me recently about current treatment of people with HIV in the military forces, I wonder whether she would be willing to meet me and other members of the APPG on HIV/AIDS, because I think that there is still an issue of discrimination happening there.
Finally, to follow my noble friend Lord Cashman, it is commendable that there is going to be cross-government working on this. However, at the end of the day, who will be accountable for the implementation and to whom will we be able to go to check what the progress has actually been?
On the information contained in records, I am able to reassure the Chamber that, because of the destruction of many of the criminal records, we are satisfied that intact personnel records exist. Often these coexist with medallic award records, so we think that we have a good body of information. That means that, when people apply, feeling that they have been wronged, we will be prepared to consider their accounts in conjunction with what the records disclose.
On the matter of women, I entirely agree. Indeed, one of the horrific experiences that I have read from one of the witnesses involved a medical examination which would constitute a criminal assault nowadays. It was absolutely terrible. We are very conscious of the vulnerability of many women who suffered these experiences, but I think the noble and learned Lord’s recommendations are a comprehensive and supportive collection of proposals to support and assist them.
The matter of HIV did not seem to feature, certainly not in the services during that time; it has very much featured thereafter. As the noble Baroness is aware, we have taken great steps within the MoD to help and support people with HIV. As I indicated in my recent Answers to her Questions, we always have to weigh up operational safety; we have no other risk assessment that we can apply. At the end of the day, we ask our Armed Forces to do extraordinarily responsible things, at times in very difficult circumstances, and to operate some very technical equipment. As with everyone—it could apply to someone with any health condition—we have to make an assessment as to whether safety would be compromised. We apply that rigorously, but with an understanding that there may be other areas of activity where people with health conditions can be usefully and productively employed.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of Members’ interests, and in particular to my position as the Prime Minister’s special envoy on LGBT rights. I add my thanks to my noble and learned friend Lord Etherton for his work on this comprehensive report. Nobody who was read it, and in particular the nearly 100 pages of personal testimonies of veterans, can be in any doubt that a terrible injustice was done to people who were serving their country, and that an apology by the Prime Minister and other Ministers on behalf of the state was entirely the right thing to do.
These people not only lost their jobs for no other reason than that they were gay, which would be a terrible thing in any walk of life, but they were people who, as serving members of the Armed Forces, had a particular attachment to their work. They regarded themselves as members of a family. To be forcibly removed from that family undoubtedly had a severely traumatic effect on very many of them, and in some cases a devastating and tragic effect.
Would my noble friend the Minister confirm that, as well as implementing the recommendations entirely—in spirit if not to the letter, for the reasons that she has explained—the Government will do so in a timely manner? These people have waited a long time for this moment. It has been some 23 years since the law was changed, and for a while their position, having been affected so badly by the previous law, was forgotten. The great good that will have come from the publication of this report and the apology yesterday would be undone were there to be an elapse of time before all the recommendations were implemented in full. A timely response would be immensely appreciated by all those concerned.
I seek to reassure my noble friend and say that there is a desire to give a timely response. By way of affirmation, I remind your Lordships that, yesterday, in the other place, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State anticipated a debate there in the autumn that would consider not just the whole report but the progress made. This is a classic situation where the Government will have their feet held to the fire by the presence of opposition politicians. The Government are aware that that is a perfectly legitimate call to account. We anticipate being in a position in the autumn to be able to take this much further and to explain to the other place and to your Lordships what progress has been made.
My Lords, I associate myself with so many of the comments made by noble Lords around the Chamber, especially those from my noble friend on the Front Bench. I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for his report, which is a very difficult read but is, and will remain, a remarkable historical document of what happened. The whole House can be grateful to him for that.
Many of the questions I wanted to ask, especially about the follow-up group that will take these recommendations forward, have been asked and answered already, but there is one thing I want to ask the Minister: what steps are being taken by the Government to disseminate the report within the Armed Forces now? It is important that those serving now have access to what we now know happened during this difficult and bad period. What are the Government actively doing to ensure that it is disseminated and can be understood for the future?
I can confirm to the noble Viscount that the review was published and can be found on GOV.UK, so it is publicly available. The MoD has numerous internal modes of communication, including DefNet. I am certain that, through our directorate of diversity and inclusion, there will be spirited attempts to ensure it disseminates down through the Armed Forces so there is widespread awareness.
My friend the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is ahead of me; I am delighted to hear that. We have a variety of extremely effective communications media within the MoD, and I am thrilled to hear it has reached them. I think there will be broad awareness within the MoD. I noticed that there was media coverage today, so that will have reached another audience.
The questions have now finished, so we will move on to the next item. Oh, I am sorry, we shall hear from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton.
I thought it would be important to finish the debate by acknowledging what many other noble Lords, including the Minister, have said, which is that, without the live contributions from those veterans who were affected by the ban and suffered under it, and who sent statements to us, the report would have been a mere shadow. I ask that the whole House acknowledges the extraordinary courage that compelled some of these people, for the very first time in their lives, to reveal things of the greatest intimacy that they would never have revealed to anyone else. At the end of the day, that courage is really what the report is about, and it leads us, as so many here have said, to implement as much as we can in order to meet the injustice that these people have suffered.