LGBT Veterans: Financial Redress - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:39 am on 21 March 2024.

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Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Non-affiliated 11:39, 21 March 2024

To ask His Majesty’s Government when they expect to have implemented Lord Etherton’s recommendations on financial redress in the LGBT veterans independent review.

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, defence has accepted the recommendation of a financial award, as proposed by the notable review from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and is working with experts across government to establish an appropriate scheme, acknowledging that the process is intricate. Defence is committed to maintaining the momentum of the review and honouring all commitments made in the Government’s response, published in December 2023. Work continues to deliver the financial scheme by the end of 2024, and I commit to updating the House on the design of the scheme before the Summer Recess.

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Non-affiliated

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. This country’s treatment of LGBT armed services personnel has indeed been shameful, and the longer it takes to implement the financial elements of the report from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, the worse it gets. The Government have had the report for a long time. They accepted it in July, but we still have no financial redress for these veterans, whose careers were ruined, whose employment prospects were damaged and whose service pensions and benefits were denied. Many are now in their senior years and living in hardship. Therefore, I ask the Government at the very least to commit to an operational date for the financial redress scheme and, if they cannot do that, to update the House, as the Minister has said, at least within three months of this Question.

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, I certainly commit to updating the House on that latter point. I think all sides are vigorously agreed on this important issue: the treatment of LGBT serving personnel between 1967 and 2000 was wholly, wholly unacceptable. There is just no question about that. But the situation today is very different, and we are trying to address the wrongs of the past as rapidly and practically as we can. We are working across government to deliver all 49 recommendations as effectively, practically and expeditiously as possible.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, do the Government realise that there is grave anxiety among brave and unjustly treated LGBT veterans, because Ministers do not seem to have accepted in full the central recommendation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, that claims for financial compensation should be met unless the Government can

“disprove the evidence of the veteran making a claim”?

Since so many of the relevant records have been destroyed by the MoD, would it not be quite wrong to place the burden of proof on veterans? Is it not indefensible that severe financial hardship should be endured by veterans such as Mr Joe Ousalice, now suffering from terminal cancer, who was sacked simply because he was gay after giving nearly 18 years loyal service to the Navy?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, nobody can do anything other than agree with my noble friend. The progress we are making is as we set out after we received the review and considered it in December. Since that time, 26 of the 49 recommendations are now complete, eight remain to be completed by the Ministry of Defence, 12 remain to be completed by the NHS and three remain to be completed by the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, which is all about the very important memorial issue. The door has opened to the extremely important webpage “LGBT veterans: support and next steps” on GOV.UK—I will repeat this as often as I can. We have now had over 2,000 contacts, which have so far resulted in 415 applications to date for restorative measures, including financial measures.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, there is something of a pattern here. When His Majesty’s Government pledged to make recompense to the war widows, there was an assumption that something would happen, but we heard a few weeks ago that some of the war widows were no longer eligible for the money they thought they were going to receive. We are now hearing that His Majesty’s Government are spending time creating a scheme for LGBT veterans. That is clearly welcome, but, as we have heard from both sides of the Chamber, there is an urgency about this, because some of the veterans have terminal illnesses. They and their families need to know that they are going to be recompensed sooner rather than later. Can His Majesty’s Government make a commitment to come back not just with another Statement but with the scheme that is needed?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, I am fully aware of the war widows issue and we are addressing that at the same time. It is very important that all these things get finished off as quickly as we possibly can. As far as the content is concerned, I have given a commitment that I will return before the Summer Recess. That will not be another Statement; it will contain what the process is going to be.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Labour

My Lords, I am happy to pay tribute to the Minister for the commitments he has made openly, both to the Question we are discussing and to the modes by which he will deliver further progress on this issue. He will have noticed, in the way the Question was formed, that my noble friend Lord Cashman has used the future perfect of the verb. In other words, will it be enough to hear an update on what is happening, or do we all long for the day when we know what has happened?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, we come back to grammar. We are all on the same page on this. Everybody is in full agreement, but we have to make certain that it is done fairly, that everybody who has the right opportunity to apply gets that opportunity, and that the compensation and other restorative measures are available to everybody concerned at the appropriate time.

Photo of Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Conservative

My Lords, I remind your Lordships’ House of my interest as a serving member of the Armed Forces. It is imperative that our Armed Forces are representative of the society they seek to protect. While there has been significant progress in recent years when it comes to the recruitment of women and ethnic minorities into the Armed Forces, much work still needs to be done. The Royal Air Force has been an exemplar in this area. So can my noble friend simply reassure your Lordships’ House that this remains a priority for His Majesty’s Government?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, I can do no more than assure the House that it is indeed an absolute priority for the Government.

Photo of Baroness Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent Baroness Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, I remind your Lordships’ House of my registered interests, specifically my roles with the Royal Navy. I also put on record our thanks to my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for everything they have done to keep this issue on our agenda.

Fighting With Pride has done an extraordinary job of raising the horrendous experiences of LGBT+ veterans who served prior to 2000, and I thank the organisation for its service. It is the least that we owe it, and the veterans it serves, to enact every recommendation in the review of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, especially recommendation 28. Can the Minister update us on whether the planned financial redress will be a blanket amount per affected veteran, or whether it will—as requested by Fighting With Pride—be applied on a case-by-case basis?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, when it comes down to it, it must be on a case-by-case basis, because a lot of the information that we have available to check and re-check exactly who has been so badly dealt with is either missing or not particularly accurate. I say again that anybody who has any interest in this should apply on the “LGBT veterans: support and next steps” page on GOV.UK. So far, we have only had just over 400 applications, which is less than we thought. We really want to make certain that this is absolutely comprehensive and that everybody gets paid—and all the other restorative measures, which are just as important, are taken—as quickly and practically as possible.

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Non-affiliated

My Lords, it is commendable that 26 recommendations have been adopted, but does the Minister agree that, without the financial element, it could be seen as window dressing? Difficult though it is, the Canadian Government turned around a much larger scheme with a much larger cohort within four months of receiving their report. I am mystified as to why the MoD cannot do the same.

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, the Canadian example is apposite but very different. The Canadian Government took a very clear administrative approach, which addressed a specific number of people, where they already had the information. We are not in that position, and it is important that we catch everybody who is likely to be affected, to make certain that justice and the right thing are done.