Air Crew Europe Star
France and Germany Star
South Atlantic Medal
Operational Service Medal (Sierra Leone)
Operational Service Medal (Afghanistan)
Operational Service Medal (Congo)
General Service Medal 1918-1962
North West Persia
Southern Desert, Iraq
South East Asia 1945-46
Bomb and Mine Clearance 1945-49
Bomb and Mine Clearance 1945-56
General Service Medal 1962-2007
Mine Clearance, Gulf of Suez
Northern Iraq and Southern Turkey
Air Operations, Iraq
General Service Medal 2008
Accumulated Campaign Service Medal 1994
Accumulated Campaign Service Medal 2011
Naval General Service Medal 1909-1962
North West Persia 1919-1920
North West Persia 1920
South East Asia 1945-46
Bomb and Mine Clearance 1945-53
Bomb and Mine Clearance Mediterranean
Africa General Service Medal 1899-1956
Shimber Berris 1914-15
East Africa 1915
East Africa 1918
India General Service Medal 1908-1935
Afghanistan North West Frontier 1919
North West Frontier 1930-31
North West Frontier 1935
India General Service Medal 1936-39
North West Frontier 1936-37
North West Frontier 1937-39
British War Medal 1914-1920
Territorial Force War Medal
War Medal 1939-45”.
Amendment 5, in title, line 1, leave out
“or public display, by a person not entitled to do so,”.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan, for what I think is the first time. I am grateful for the very constructive approach that hon. Members on both sides of the House have taken to my private Member’s Bill; that has shown the workings of the House of Commons at their best.
It may assist the Committee if I set out the purpose behind amendments 2 and 3, which is to leave out the existing clauses 1 and 2 so that they may be replaced by the new clause and schedule. On Second Reading, a number of hon. Members, including me, noted that the Bill was capable of improvement. It will be clear from the amendments tabled last Friday that parliamentary counsel certainly agreed with me: some fairly big changes are proposed.
As I said, the purpose of amendments 2 and 3 is to leave out the existing clauses 1 and 2, on the basis that a new clause and schedule are introduced to replace them. The Bill will therefore be narrower in scope, but will more effectively carry out its main intention, which is to end the practice of people wearing medals with intent to deceive. The existing clauses 1 and 2 should not stand part of the Bill.
The purpose of amendment 4 is to amend clause 3, so that the Act will come into force two months after Royal Assent. It is standard practice for an Act to come into force a minimum of two months after Royal Assent, unless there are exceptional circumstances. I suggest that clause 3 be amended to extend the period between Royal Assent and the coming into force of the Act to the more usual two months. The police, courts and lawyers need an opportunity and some time to evaluate the contents of any Act of Parliament that creates a criminal offence; amendment 4 will, I hope, facilitate just that.
New clause 1 is the main change to the Bill: it creates the guts of the Bill for consideration by the Committee. Its purpose is to replace the existing clauses 1 and 2, and it is designed to work with the schedule. The new clause contains all that is necessary to create the new offence. It sets out its scope, delineates the penalties for contravention and provides the basis on which the Secretary of State may amend the schedule where necessary from time to time.
I have prepared draft explanatory notes for the Bill, which are available should colleagues want to peruse them. The first change is to subsection (1). On Second Reading, there was some disquiet about the potential for the Bill to criminalise mere boastfulness. That was because the offence included representing oneself as being “entitled” to wear an award when that was not the case. I considered very carefully the comments made on Second Reading, as well as the recommendation of the Defence Committee in its report, and the new clause makes it an offence to wear an award or something that resembles it.
The awards covered by the Bill are separately listed in the schedule and are, in broad terms, military gallantry awards, three civilian gallantry awards and military campaign awards from just before the first world war to date. It seems sensible not only to cover those medals most widely in circulation, but to recognise that medals awarded before world war one do not seem to be used very frequently to deceive people, in my experience.
The key focus of the offence is the need for a person to have an intention to deceive by wearing the awards. The Committee will note that the proposed changes narrow the scope of the Bill. My intention has always been to target those people who undermine our serving personnel and veterans by wearing awards that they have not been given to try to deceive people. That action undermines the confidence that people have when seeing serving personnel and veterans proudly wearing their medals. The new clause enables the Bill to target those who falsely wear medals.
The new clause does not contain any specific offences and exemptions for various groups. It no longer includes the concept of a person being “entitled” to wear an award. Instead, it places the focus on whether the person wearing the award intends to deceive by doing so. In short, if there is no intent to deceive, no offence can be committed. An offence can be committed only when there is intent to deceive; it cannot be committed accidentally or unintentionally. The wording is critical, as it means that the wonderful custom of family members sporting medals in honour of loved ones is unaffected by the Bill.
For instance, the original Bill included a specific exemption for family members wearing awards in honour of their relatives. It also contained specific provisions exempting other groups, such as actors and those taking part in historical re-enactments. As the offence is drafted in the new clause, it is not necessary to set out lists of specific exemptions. The key question to be asked in any case is whether the person wearing the medals intends to deceive others by doing so. The context in which they are worn will be key in determining that. Family members and friends wearing medals in honour of another will not have the necessary intention to deceive others, so they will not be guilty of an offence.
The need to protect family members and friends from liability under the Bill has been a key concern from day one. I believe that the new clause achieves that protection. Anyone wearing medals awarded to someone else who says, for example, “I am wearing these medals in honour of my wife’s great-uncle Harry, who was at Dunkirk”, will not be caught by the provisions of the Bill.
On the other hand, a rogue family member might decide to wear a relative’s medals to further some deceptive scheme of their own. The existing clause may unintentionally have given such a person an unwarranted protection just because they could claim, “This is my grandfather’s medal.” I am certain that the Bill as redrafted will not in any way hinder the wonderful custom of people wearing medals or ribbons in honour of loved ones.
The medals covered by the Bill are now set out in a schedule, and they include all the military gallantry awards, both current and superseded, three civilian medals and all campaign medals awarded since the beginning of the first world war. The medals are specific so that there can be no doubt about which are covered. The Bill protects awards for valour. The new clause contains a much clearer definition of what those are for the purposes of the Bill. The awards covered are specific gallantry awards and campaign awards approved in respect of campaigns or operations that involve a danger to life from enemy action and a level of rigour that exceeds what might be expected in a non-operational environment.
The new clause makes it an offence to wear an item that has the appearance of being one of the awards specified in the schedule. That will ensure that those who wear replicas or copies of medals will be committing an offence if they intend to deceive by doing so. It will also ensure that the police do not have to forensically examine any medal worn with the intent to deceive to prove the offence. Having an article that simply appears to be one of the awards in the schedule is sufficient.
The process has been a fairly steep learning curve for me. I have learned an awful amount about the etiquette of wearing medals. I have learned some things that I never thought I would about the range of physical items that can represent a medal, depending on the occasion. Subsection (2) of the new clause expressly provides that the offence is committed if any of the items commonly worn to represent the award of an honour are worn with the intention to deceive others. It includes ribbons, clasps, stars, bars and miniatures, but the list as set out in the new clause is not exhaustive.
I move on to subsection (3). The new clause makes no change to the penalties that may be imposed on conviction, but it more clearly sets out the level of fines to be imposed in the different jurisdictions in our United Kingdom. As before, the offence will be able to be tried only in magistrates courts in England and Wales and their equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In all jurisdictions, the fine is set at the standard level 5; however, the amount of such a fine differs between jurisdictions. In England and Wales, the fine will be unlimited, while in Scotland and Northern Ireland the maximum fine will be £5,000.
A person convicted of the offence may also be sentenced to a maximum of three months’ imprisonment. I do not envisage that a custodial sentence will be imposed for this offence in any but the very worst cases. However, the possibility of a custodial sentence—it will be an imprisonable offence—will enable courts to impose a community order or community payback where appropriate. The offence would be committed against society, so it is appropriate that courts have that discretion. Indeed, courts have imposed just such a sentence in the past when this offence existed previously.
Let me clarify the changes to subsection (4). The new clause allows the Secretary of State to amend the schedule when necessary by adding or removing awards and by amending the description of awards listed. The power is necessary to avoid the need for Parliament to amend the Act by primary legislation every time a new medal is approved, which might become onerous in the case of campaign medals. Unfortunately, we cannot exclude the possibility of future conflicts, so it makes sense to allow for awards to be added to the schedule in that way.
The power can also be used to amend the schedule by removing medals no longer considered to be in need of protection. We envisage that these would be primarily campaign medals relating to campaigns or wars outside living memory.
This is a very comprehensive list and the procedures the hon. Gentleman is suggesting make sense. Can he clarify the situation regarding commemoratives? I know that there is a much wider debate around whether they are right or wrong. I know that many veterans would like to see commemorative medals issued for service in, for example, the British Army of the Rhine or the cold war, but they are not issued by the Government. Can the hon. Gentleman be clear about the scope of the Bill? Does it affect commemoratives at all?
Commemorative medals do not come under the umbrella of the Bill: if the award is not for valour, it is not covered by this legislation. The hon. Gentleman would have to bring his own private Member’s Bill if he wanted to add the type of medals he speaks about. Campaign medals are covered by the legislation and there is a very set test that I will outline in a moment that any Secretary of State has to follow before adding any items to the schedule.
The list could have gone on ad infinitum: there are so many different types of awards, so many different commemorative-class medals, ribbons and so on that could have been added to the list. Part of my intention was to keep the scope of the Bill narrow, so that it would be well understood and therefore manageable as a piece of legislation to go through Parliament.
I am very interested in what the hon. Gentleman says about the different kinds of award and medal that are available and covered in the Bill. Does he agree that it is unfortunate that there is not a national defence medal that could be granted to all service personnel?
The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. I know she feels very strongly about this issue; I believe that she led a Westminster Hall debate on the issue not long ago. The Bill is not about anything other than awards for valour, so that kind of medal is not included. That is not to say that we do not recognise and appreciate the courage of those individuals who have served, put on a uniform and been prepared to risk their lives for our country.
The Bill does not cover long-service awards and, again, that is not a failure to recognise the contribution those people put in. It is simply trying to ensure that, if someone pretends to have received an award for valour and are doing so with intent to deceive, they will be covered by this legislation. It again comes down to trying to keep the scope of the Bill manageable. If the hon. Lady wishes to pursue the issue she has mentioned, I will be happy to help in any way I can.
As the Minister at the Ministry of Defence responsible, I said to the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire before the proceedings started that I am happy to facilitate a meeting in the Department. However, the issue is out of the scope of this Bill, as the Chair has already indicated. From my point of view, let us discuss it. I would be a recipient of such a medal, along with my colleagues, but I have yet to be convinced that that would be right.
The hon. Gentleman is taking a pragmatic approach. As a former Veterans Minister, I know that this could go on for pages and pages. Is he confident that the provisions cover the main area of medals? Most medals awarded by foreign Governments to members of our armed forces are not allowed to be worn but I think there are some exceptions whereby they are allowed to be worn, with the Queen’s permission. Are they included in these provisions?
The list covers purely those awards sanctioned by Her Majesty and the Defence Council, as opposed to, for example, the Légion d’Honneur, which has been won by veterans from this country. Of course, if someone had legitimately been awarded the Légion d’Honneur and was wearing it, there is nothing wrong with that. They would be committing an offence only if they were wearing a medal or award that is in the schedule, with intent to deceive. If it were a foreign medal, it would not be covered by this schedule, which relates only to awards that have been given by Her Majesty, previous monarchs and the Defence Council.
I think it would if the Queen had given permission. I am trying to rack my brains to think of them. There are a couple, I think, that are allowed to be included. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that it is only the ones that the Defence Council or the Queen have authorised to wear? If it is a foreign medal that has been given the Queen’s permission, it would be in the scope of this.
If it is a foreign medal, it would not be. Trying to keep the list down to a manageable level is difficult enough with British medals. To try to include all medals from around the world as well would make it unworkable. It covers civilian awards such as the George Medal, the George Cross and the Queen’s Gallantry Medal. Quite often those awards are given to military personnel in any event.
The schedule does not cover awards from around the world. It was very tempting, when drafting the Bill, to include knighthoods and OBEs. The list goes on, frankly, and one has to decide where to draw the line. The line I have decided to draw is on awards for valour that have been sanctioned by Her Majesty the Queen.
My hon. Friend is making a good point but the hon. Member for North Durham also raised an interesting one. The Sultanates of Oman and Brunei, I suspect, are the areas that he is particularly thinking of. At various points, the Sultans have awarded medals. They are not normally awarded on exactly the same grounds as they would be in the United Kingdom. For example, teachers in the Sultanate of Oman have sometimes qualified if they were teaching the Sultan’s military personnel.
We must remember the comments of Queen Elizabeth I on foreign awards:
“My dogs shall wear no collars but mine own.”
However, in this circumstance, it makes sense to focus, as my hon. Friend does, on awards for valour issued by the Defence Council.
I understood that the Bill was intended to stop people parading in medals and awards to which they are not entitled. If the Bill covers only medals for valour, what is to stop the Walter Mitty characters simply continuing to do as they do, using long service or other medals, not medals for valour, in the hope that the public do not read the small print or understand the insignia and the ribbons attached to them? Surely, unless there is a blanket ban, it does not really address the problem.
If somebody seeks to wear medals that are completely fictitious, that would not be covered by the Bill. If they wanted to wear Boer war medals, that would not be covered by the Bill. I come back to my original point—the Bill deals with a particular problem.
In my experience, the overwhelming majority of Walter Mitty characters tend to pretend that they have served in Afghanistan or in a recent conflict, such as the Falklands, and wear the medals that represent that. The Bill would stop the overwhelming majority of such instances. It will not cover every single example of someone being boastful and exaggerating their worthiness to others. It would be impossible to have a Bill to achieve that, without huge unintended consequences. The Bill ensures that the overwhelming majority of Walter Mitty-type characters—as the hon. Gentleman put it—are covered by legislation, the practice is stopped, and there is an end to the deep hurtfulness and offensiveness that they create, once and for all.
I am sorry to press the hon. Gentleman further, but I have a point of information. I totally understand why he has chosen to draw the line where he has, but I can think of a number of common medals that one sees on display at the moment, including the Territorial Decoration and the Jubilee Medals. They are quite often worn by people and I am sure have been worn by some of those Walter Mitty characters. Will he explain why he did not choose to include those commonly worn medals?
Because they are not awards for valour—that is it in a nutshell. These kinds of characters tend to wear a collection of medals; it is rare that just one medal is worn. The examples that we have had are of people who have worn a couple of dozen medals. It is absolutely ridiculous. I have not served in the armed forces, but anyone who has will immediately be able to recognise that it simply does not add up and therefore the person’s delusions are quite often picked up. It is rare that they would just wear one or two medals to claim their bravery.
There is a common area that has been completely missed, which is NATO campaign medals. They are worn quite often, especially if we consider the 1980s, when we were not in the Afghanistan and Iraq phases and many servicemen would have got those medals.
There was a discussion about the NATO Medal. It was felt that it did not come under the risk and rigour criteria, if I remember correctly.
There is nothing to stop the Secretary of State adding medals to the legislation at a later date. We have a Minister of State here. If there are omissions from the list—I do not believe that there are, but if there are—they can be added at a future date. There will be occasions when circumstances change and British forces are asked to serve in arenas that we are unaware of at the moment. Medals are likely to emanate from that. This is a moving beast and will have to modernise from time to time.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s comments that there is scope for this to be reviewed in the future. He understands my sentiments about the prospect of a national defence medal, so it is positive to see that avenue. To take him back to the point about Walter Mitty characters and the majority of characters who behave in a certain way, which is the concern that led to the Bill being drafted, I do not know enough about that. Will he talk us through the detail of the evidence of the behaviours of people who are committing these kinds of offences, which I agree cause significant offence to those who are entitled to their medals?
It is very difficult to estimate exactly how many Walter Mitty-type characters exist at the moment because the practice is not a criminal offence and therefore no record is kept. We do know, though, from various organisations that seek out these individuals, that it is likely that the numbers are measured in hundreds —not thousands or dozens. In my local British Legion club in Greenhithe, of which I am president, we have had at least two instances in my time there of people wearing medals and claiming to have served when they had not. Since I introduced this Bill numerous people have contacted me, offended by having attended a Remembrance Day service and seeing people wearing medals that clearly could not have been awarded to them. I am not claiming that this is rampant, but it is a growing and significant problem, given the internet, where people can purchase medals whenever they want to, relatively cheaply, and therefore curry favour. All four countries in the United Kingdom have a very rich military history and we are rightly proud of that. Because we are proud of that, and hold people who have served in high esteem, unfortunately there are those who want to elevate themselves to that position without having taken the risk that others have done. It is right that, when we see somebody wearing medals, we can continue to have confidence that they are the real deal; that they have been awarded those medals and are worthy of the respect that comes with them. That is what is behind the Bill.
One can see many videos on Youtube of people posing wearing medals, but I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that the most concerning examples are those where people are trying to get money, often deceitfully, for non-existent charities or otherwise. They are using the medals as a way of getting money from the public.
Of course, doing anything fraudulently to obtain money is a criminal offence, but at the moment it is not a criminal offence to try to curry favour, respect and elevation as a consequence of wearing medals when people are not entitled to do so.
To go back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire about the numbers involved, while I accept the goodwill behind the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, I note from the Defence Committee’s report on it that the Royal British Legion said in its written evidence that
“only a handful of such instances” of non-veterans applying fraudulently for help could be recalled and that
“there are no reliable statistics to reveal the true scale of the problem”.
Even the Royal Air Force Families Federation said:
“We have no evidence either way but instinctively we would say it is not widespread”.
There seems to be a consensus among the military charities that this is not a major problem. Are we in danger of creating more legislation where the current legislation on fraud would cover what this is designed to prevent?
Fraud law already exists, so that is dealt with separately. Again, it is difficult to get a handle on exactly how many people are guilty of this misbehaviour—as it is at the moment, rather than being a criminal offence. However, I would take issue with the hon. Gentleman’s comments. Numerous military charities that are fully supportive of the Bill have contacted me. They say that, particularly around the time of Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day, numerous people have contacted them to say, “I’ve got this character at my local service and they are doing a massive disservice to the people who attend.” I am not saying that this is rampant or that there are thousands of people around the country, but there are certainly hundreds.
That is just one part—to tackle these Walter Mitty characters—but another, perhaps the most important part, of the Bill is about giving people confidence. It is a deterrent. It ensures that when we see somebody, we can have confidence that that individual is bona fide. That is one of the main reasons behind the Bill; it is a secondary purpose to catch those Walter Mitty characters and punish them through the law. I do not expect hundreds of arrests to flow from the Bill, but it is right to have it. Such legislation exists in most countries in the world, particularly in America, where the Stolen Valour Act protects people who have won the Purple Heart, for example. I understand that it works very well around the world and gives veterans the protection they deserve. It is high time that in this country, which has one of the richest military histories in the world, we protected our veterans in exactly the same way that we see in most other countries.
I shall move on to subsection (5)—back to the dryness of my speech. It contains clearly defined criteria that an award will have to meet to be added to the schedule. It will have to be a gallantry award, military or civilian, or a campaign medal awarded on the basis of risk and rigour. In the United Kingdom, a campaign medal will be approved to acknowledge a particular campaign or operation only if it meets the criteria of risk and rigour. Broadly speaking, the campaign or operation must have involved a risk of danger to life from enemy action, and it must have involved a level of rigour that is significantly greater than that experienced in more peaceful times. Those criteria are stringent and the bar is deliberately set high to ensure that when awards are made, they reflect the value of the sacrifice made by those who participated in the campaign.
Moving on to subsection (8), any regulations to amend the schedule would have to comply with the affirmative procedure and be approved by a resolution of each House. Finally, the purpose of new schedule 1 is to list all the awards protected by the Bill, divided into two parts: gallantry awards and campaign awards. Part 1 of the schedule lists the gallantry awards that are covered, while part 2 lists the campaign awards. I hope that the Bill gets to Third Reading. I thank the Ministry of Defence for its assistance, both at ministerial and official level, in ensuring that the Bill is tidy, presentable and will, I believe, provide a valuable deterrent to people who wish to mimic those who have served our country so valiantly.
It is a pleasure, Ms Ryan, to serve under your chairship for the first time. I congratulate—dare I call him my hon. Friend? —the Member for Dartford, and I agree wholeheartedly with his amendments. They tidy up and deal with some of the criticisms that were made on the Floor of the House when the Bill was first debated last year. I am delighted to place on record that Her Majesty’s official Opposition fully support the Bill, because we firmly believe that anyone impersonating a veteran by wearing medals they have not earned should face legal sanctions. The practice of impersonating veterans or serving soldiers causes real and serious offence to our forces community, as has been pointed out by all Members who have intervened today, and of course by the promoter of the Bill himself. It is right that we recognise this and punish these military imposters, in the same way as it is currently an offence to impersonate a service member by wearing a forces uniform.
The law as it currently stands does not go far enough, as we know. Military imposters can be prosecuted for fraud, as the hon. Member for Dartford has pointed out, but this requires them to have fraudulently obtained a benefit. The fact of wearing a medal that has not been earned is not currently an offence. As the Defence Committee said:
“The protections sought in the Bill are necessary to safeguard the integrity of the military honours system, to reflect the justifiably strong public condemnation of the deceitful use of military honours, and to ensure that legitimate recipients of these distinguished awards should not have to endure the intrusion of imposters”.
That backs up what the hon. Gentleman said about ensuring the integrity of the system. Such sanctions are common in other legal systems around the world, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, and the lack of similar protection in the UK is exceptional, according to the Defence Committee.
Of course it is right that we allow relatives to honour fallen veterans by wearing medals and the hon. Member for Dartford has made adequate provision for that. Indeed, every Remembrance Sunday I wear my father’s medals, of course on the other breast. The Bill contains that important protection and we are very pleased to support it fully.
I thank the hon. Member for Dartford for all his work in bringing the Bill here today. I also thank the Clerks, who have been extremely patient with me, in the same way that the Ministry of Defence has clearly been very supportive of the hon. Gentleman. I know that he has done a significant amount of work to bring the Bill here today and that he has done that without the benefit of a third party campaign group or a charity, which I think is worth noting.
I had a large number of questions when I came in here today and to the hon. Gentleman’s credit he has answered them with no problem. That is incredibly helpful. A number remain, but it is interesting to see this process going through. It is a privilege to speak, on behalf of my party, for the armed forces and veterans. The spirit of the Bill is very much in tune with its views on supporting our armed forces and veterans communities and on ensuring that they appreciate that we are absolutely behind them and the work that they do. He and I have discussed that the Bill would not have been my main or first priority in terms of the armed forces and veterans activity, but I appreciate that he is bringing it here for all the right reasons.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that people should not wear medals that they are not entitled to wear. If somebody is seeking to deceive by using or wearing a medal, that is clearly unacceptable. I am less convinced by his concern about people lacking or losing confidence in our armed forces because of the people who deceive in that way. I believe it is a small number of people and I do not think that it has that effect. However, I think that the sentiment is well placed.
The hon. Gentleman spoke interestingly about people who wear medals and turn up at commemorations, perhaps those of family members, and that is important. We must not let that be caught by the Bill. In my little area, a number of people attend Remembrance Day wearing family medals. It is important to them to be able to do that. It is important to have clarity in ensuring that those people are not covered by the scope of the Bill. A number of people here will march with their own medals, but there are those of us who march alongside our local veterans. I have the privilege every year of marching alongside the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women and alongside Brigadier Monty Cowen. The respect that we would be showing to people, such as him, who have been through incredibly difficult situations is what has brought the hon. Gentleman here today.
That brings me on to the issue of the national defence medal. Having discussed that with Ms Ryan, I have agreed that I am not going to pursue that in any detailed way here because I understand that that is not within the scope of the Bill. I appreciate her considering the amendment. It was not selected on this occasion, but that consideration is very helpful. My concern, which flows from that, is that all our veterans show valour. I wonder whether we might be looking slightly through the wrong lens here because everybody who goes into our armed services is, by definition, showing valour.
It would be useful if the hon. Gentleman clarified a small number of points for me. He spoke about people accidentally and unintentionally deceiving. It would be interesting to hear a bit more about how that could happen; I am not entirely sure how it would happen. He spoke about the “offence against society”. If that is a turn of phrase he is using, that is fine. If it is something more, I do not understand it and it would be useful to have his clarification.
I would also like clarification on the extent to which this would apply in Scotland in particular. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the appropriate court in Scotland. It would be useful to know what that means exactly. Does the Bill require a legislative consent motion from the devolved Governments? Does it require legislation in Scotland, for instance? Is it compatible with the differences in law that exist in the constituent countries of the United Kingdom in its current form? It would be particularly helpful if those questions were answered. Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for all his work thus far.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. May I congratulate the hon. Member for Dartford on bringing forward this Bill? It clearly plugs a loophole. This was an offence until 2006. May I profess guilt and say, as a veteran of the Committee that considered the Armed Forces Act 2006—a massive piece of legislation—that this got missed? I have read the Ministry of Defence’s explanation for that. I do not quite accept it. I think it was just one of those things that got missed off. Members on both sides of the Committee on which I served would have supported these provisions being in that Act. The Bill therefore brings the law back to where it should be. People say, “Is it about numbers?” No, it is not about numbers—this is wrong. If people are wearing a medal that they are not entitled to, I do not care whether it is one or two a year, or one a year—it is wrong.
As a former Veterans Minister, I know from meeting the men and women of many campaigns, how proud they are of the hard work, dedication and personal sacrifice they have made in many cases to earn the right to wear those medals. It is completely unacceptable that anyone should try to wear medals and to impersonate the great courage and service of those men and women. It is a very important issue. As I say, the number is small, but I do not care—it is right to introduce these provisions.
The approach the hon. Gentleman has taken to listing the medals is correct. I have scars, as a former Veterans Minister, about medals. I am sure the Minister gets those now. It is not just the national campaign—there is a whole variety of things that people want medals or decorations awarded for. The only way to do it is the way the hon. Gentleman has done it—to be very prescriptive; although comprehensive, I think it covers that.
The caveat at the end allows the addition of medals. For example, I raised the issue of NATO. If that becomes a problem, I am sure those could be added. Perhaps that is the best way to deal with that. I also think his approach in allowing family members to wear medals is correct and common sense.
There is the growing issue of replica medals. I do not know how to get round that, even with the Bill, which covers the actual medals themselves. People will always try to get round that. I think that framing a law that outlaws them would be virtually impossible. The hon. Gentleman is making the best attempt to cover all the circumstances.
There is another common-sense aspect to the approach in the Bill—it is about the intent. I am sure that hon. Members are aware that there are some people with mental illness who claim to have served in the military. There are many people in our prisons who have never served but, for whatever reason, perhaps of mental health, claim to have served. In some of those cases, they are genuinely convinced they have served. However, they would not be caught by the Bill because it takes a common-sense approach in terms of intent.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman again on bringing forward the Bill. Let us hope that it closes the loophole in the law, which unfortunately I and other members of the Committee that considered the Armed Forces Bill in 2006 did not spot.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan; I assure colleagues that I intend to speak only briefly. I take this opportunity to commend the hon. Member for Dartford for bringing the Bill to the House and for the constructive and cross-party way in which he has done it.
I am mindful that there are other important matters taking place in the House today, and it would be very easy to be distracted by those. If we were, we would run the risk of missing this opportunity to do something important and something that, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham just said, could well have been done 10 or more years ago: protect the exclusivity of awards for valour.
I know from personal experience, as will a number of other hon. Members, that both the awarding and wearing of medals can be highly emotive issues. As a general rule, any debate that takes place in this House that in any way relates to medals is one that I tend to avoid. However, I also know that many people in our society rightly feel angered by those who deceive us into believing that they should be honoured through the false wearing of medals.
All of us here are united in holding in great esteem those men and women who serve so bravely in our armed forces—and, of course, the families who support them. The wearing of medals should be an opportunity for all of us as a society to share in that esteem. It gives those who wear them the opportunity to demonstrate pride in their own service or pride in the service of their loved ones. It also gives us, the public, the opportunity to express gratitude and respect. To bask falsely in that admiration and gratitude is to tarnish the medals and achievements of others.
Although there is seemingly no end—thankfully—to the appreciation that the British public show our veterans and their families, to raise even for a moment a doubt in the minds of the public as to the integrity and worthiness of entitled medal wearers is to take something from them that cannot subsequently be given back.
For those reasons, I am pleased to add my support to the Bill. I thank the hon. Member for Dartford for bringing it forward and I hope all other Members will support it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dartford on getting the Bill this far. I also thank him for being so generous in this debate and clear and precise with his answers, taking time to explain fully the thinking behind this legislation.
I am concerned that the narrow definition of the “for valour” medals that it will be illegal to wear if unearned will do little to deter those we have been describing as the Walter Mitty characters who are determined to appear at cenotaphs and remembrance parades the length and breadth of the country, passing themselves off as something they clearly are not.
That brings me to a query about the blanket nature of the legislation. Is there going to be a sliding scale between those who are in many cases essentially harmless, rather sad fantasists who desperately crave attention and acceptance, and those who are using their fake medals for personal gain or to deceive for some kind of financial benefit? Are the two to be treated exactly the same? One suggests to me an issue of mental health; the other is a pretty serious criminal offence. How, if at all, will that be looked at within the scope of the Bill? As I said earlier, is there anything to distinguish between those two? Are the England and Wales Fraud Act 2006 and its equivalent in Scotland not sufficient to deal with the issue already? I know the hon. Gentleman touched on that point, but it would be worth looking at again.
Finally, why now? What has changed between 2015 and now? I understood that the Government’s clear position was that the United Kingdom did not require an equivalent of the USA Stolen Valour Act, which makes it a federal crime to claim fraudulently to be a recipient of certain military decorations. The Stolen Valour Act of 2013, as amended, was directed at those
“with intent to obtain money, property and other tangible benefits fraudulently” and who hold themselves out to be something they are not. I absolutely agree with that, but does that deception apply to those with mental health challenges who seek nothing more than the admiration of his or her peer group? Will they be classed in exactly the same way?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his time and congratulate him on bringing the Bill this far. I would just like clarification on those issues.
Many have said it, and we all mean it.
I should say at the outset how difficult it is to get a private Member’s Bill to this position. Myriad, untold amounts of legislation could have been brought forward by a Back Bencher, and it would have been very worthy; the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire mentioned that other things could have been brought forward. However, the chances of getting such legislation to this stage, with this amount of cross-House support, would be very remote. However, it happened the other day with the Homelessness Reduction Bill and it is happening again today.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford for the pragmatic way in which he has worked with my officials and people across the House following Second Reading. On Second Reading, there were genuine concerns that loved ones, for instance, could be targeted by the Bill. I have been a member of the British Legion since I was 18 years of age—long before I was in this House. To be on parade on Remembrance Day and to see young people, sometimes really young people, wearing their grandfather’s medals, or in some cases, because we have been on operations so much in the past few years, their father’s or their mother’s medals—we must not forget that we lost ladies as well as men on ops—is one of the most moving things.
The hurt caused to loved ones if anyone, even one person anywhere in these great islands of ours, falsely claims to have done what their loved one did for their country and their family, will be deep. When we talk to families who know that someone is on parade falsely wearing a medal—even, in respect of my situation, the General Service Medal Northern Ireland—we see that it really hurts. We must never underestimate that. As the former Veterans Minister, the hon. Member for North Durham, said a moment ago, if we can stop even one such person, that will be extremely important.
The list of the valour medals is spot on, as others have mentioned. The 1977 Jubilee Medal was referred to. I was serving in 1977; I did not get it. I was not on the list. Not everybody got it. Everybody assumes that everybody got it.
It was a subtle hint.
There is one area that we will look at, given the powers in the Bill, when we get some time: the UN Medal. Ever more of our troops are in danger and at risk and fit the criteria. Quite rightly, they get the UN Medal, but it does not come under this. The hon. Member for Dartford is absolutely right: there is an unlimited number of medals and honours that we could look at, some of which do not cover a traditional UN role, such as the Cyprus situation, in a buffer zone. There are really different situations—not least the troops whom we recently sent to South Sudan. We are in that environment today, under the UN.
I want to draw my comments to a close and say congratulations: it is difficult to get to this position. Hon. Members have had private Member’s Bill after private Member’s Bill way up the list but they have not come to fruition, often because those hon. Members have not been pragmatic enough. Having such a narrowly focused Bill, which specifically targets people that hurt other people’s feelings and memories, is absolutely spot on. I congratulate my hon. Friend and hope we can move on swiftly with the voting.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I intend to be very brief as well.
First, I offer my wholehearted support for the Bill. If I had got lucky in the private Members’ ballot, I would have thought of introducing something similar, so when I heard that the hon. Member for Dartford had brought this Bill forward, I was delighted to add my name as one of its supporters. I praise his cross-party approach and generosity in answering the many reasonable questions. He has clearly had a difficult job in narrowing the Bill down, but he has found a happy balance that will make a big difference to the offence of wearing medals inappropriately on the part of those who simply do not deserve them or have not been awarded them.
When we read some of the citations, let alone the wider stories, particularly around some of the medals awarded for the highest valour, we understand how inappropriate such impersonation is and the offence caused to serving members or those who have been in receipt of such awards.
This weekend, I was standing outside the West House in Penarth, our town council headquarters; memorialised on the wall were two Penarth recipients of the Victoria Cross in world war one. Reading such citations, particularly when they are for one’s own constituents, past or present, is a humbling experience for us all.
As I mentioned earlier, I have seen the many regrettable characters who attempt to portray themselves inappropriately in this way. There are many examples one can look at online, on YouTube. People have rightly been challenged by actual serving members of the armed forces, and those who have actually been in receipt of these medals have rightly asked such people to explain themselves. Unfortunately, I think the practice is more widespread than perhaps we realised.
I am pleased to hear what has been said about the issue of intent and those who have mental illnesses. There was an example at Remembrance Day last year of an individual who is well known to the community and is not necessarily causing offence to anybody; there is acceptance that this individual literally thinks they were serving and had awards. There is a general sense in the community that we would not want to see someone like that criminalised. There are clearly others, though, who are doing it for wrong reasons, or even to get money or other things.
I shall briefly raise three issues. I have already mentioned commemoratives, something we might need to return to in the future. I can see how these can be used to attempt to deceive, but I also understand that there is a great deal of debate about the issue in the veterans community, particularly when it comes to people who feel they should have been awarded something, but never were.
Indeed; I have spoken to people on both sides of the argument and it is a complex and emotive issue, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central said.
The second issue, which has certainly been of concern to a number of my constituents who served on the Arctic convoys in the second world war, was the non-ability to receive the Ushakov Medal that had been awarded by the Russian Government, despite their having been awarded by many other allies from the second world war. I am glad to say that that was eventually resolved and members were able to receive the Ushakov Medal. Indeed, a number of them now wear it proudly, particularly at our merchant navy and Royal Navy memorials in Cardiff and Penarth. I know a number of individuals who were in receipt of it. Given what has been said about foreign medals, I am glad that they will not come within the scope of the Bill. Although I would not want to see people attempting to deceive through the wearing of foreign awards, I would not want people unnecessarily criminalised for wearing things from foreign Governments to which they were duly entitled.
The last issue has been raised by a number of constituents, and one in particular. I hope that I might tempt the Minister to intervene on me. It is clearly not something that we are going to be able to address; I considered tabling an amendment but did not, given the tight scope that the hon. Member for Dartford was attempting for the Bill. It is the issue of impersonation: attempting to deceive by the wearing of uniform or the false use of rank, particularly on letterheads or business cards. I know of a number of examples locally where individuals have tried to achieve social standing, financial gain and other access that they would not otherwise have got, particularly through the abuse of post-nominals in relation to awards for valour.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind invitation. Of course, such wearing of a uniform is illegal, but we do not want to criminalise guys who go to the army surplus store and then wear the clothing. However, it is something I am conscious of. The area that I think is more important is impersonating rank, such as retired major and so on, which one often sees on letterheads. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could find time to see me and I will make sure the officials are with us. That issue may not be within the scope of this Bill, but he might do really well in the next ballot and we could then assist him in the same way we have assisted my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford.
I thank the Minister for his generous reply and will certainly take him up on that offer. This issue is of concern to many people. As I said, I do not want to criminalise people with army surplus clothing and so on, but I have seen people fundraising in standard issue PCS—personal clothing system—uniform without medals on, clearly inappropriately, who were not serving members of the armed forces.
I offer my full support for the Bill and know that it will enjoy support across the country. It is very important and I again praise the hon. Member for Dartford for the way he has brought it forward. I hope we can take it to the next stage.
I shall briefly go through some of the points that have been raised. First, the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire asked me whether the offence can be committed unintentionally. It cannot be committed unintentionally: there needs to be a specific intent to deceive. I used the word “society”, but that is purely a phrase. It is up to the courts to decide the appropriate sentence, but it often makes sense that one who affronts society pays something back to society. Consequently, the offence will be publishable by imprisonment.
Fines used to be set for levels 1 to 5 right across the United Kingdom, with level 5 being the maximum. That was changed fairly recently to an unlimited fine in England and Wales for most magistrates court cases. That is why there is a slight difference in the penalties in the Bill. The fine can be up to level 5 for Northern Ireland and Scotland, but for England and Wales it simply says “a fine”. An unlimited fine would therefore be available for the magistrates to impose.
I am afraid I cannot read my own handwriting on the last point I wanted to make. If hon. Members want to intervene on any point I have not covered, I will do my best.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s giving way; he has been incredibly generous with his time. I think his point written in unreadable handwriting might have said something about legislative consent motions or separate requirements for legislation.
That is right. Matters involving the military are obviously not devolved matters, and the Bill therefore affects the whole of the United Kingdom. There does not need to be additional consultation. I understand that there is a debate in the Scottish Parliament tomorrow about justice, so that is an opportunity for MSPs to make contributions about this issue if they see fit.
The hon. Member for North Durham made an excellent speech, but to clarify one issue he raised, replicas will be covered if there is an intention to deceive when wearing them. If somebody has replicas of their own medals, that is perfectly fine; nobody is being deceived. The Bill will cover anything that resembles a medal or award that is covered by the new schedule. If a replica resembles one of those, that is sufficient if there is an intention to deceive. The reason for that is partly to save the police from having to examine forensically anything that someone is wearing.
I thank the hon. Member for Barnsley Central for his assistance and his constructive approach to the matter. He is absolutely right about the medal system being incredibly complex—it really is. Along with other hon. Members, he rightly mentioned that this is not a party political Bill in any way, shape or form. The Bill is as much a Labour party Bill as it is a Scottish National party Bill and a Conservative Bill—it is even a Liberal Democrat Bill. [Hon. Members: “Steady on!”] All right; it is not a party political Bill. It is a Bill that we have debated the merits of, and it is not something any political party would in any way take credit for.
The hon. Members for Argyll and Bute and for Cardiff South and Penarth rightly mentioned mental health issues. The offence in the Bill requires specific intent. If somebody is not capable of forming the necessary intent to commit the offence, they are not guilty of the offence. The Crown Prosecution Service has an additional safeguard—as I am sure does the procurator fiscal in Scotland—whereby a prosecution has to be in the public interest to be brought. I submit that it would not be in the public interest to bring a case in which someone clearly had such serious mental health problems as to be incapable of committing this offence. I hope I have allayed hon. Members’ fears on that.
There is scope to add additional medals, such as commemorative medals, to the new schedule, as we see fit. A colleague of mine said, in a rather tongue-in-cheek way, that a man flu medal should be added to the list. That is not going to happen.
The final question was why the Bill was brought before Parliament. I was pulled out in the ballot—that is why. This is the only opportunity I have ever had to bring in a Bill.
For the convenience of the Committee, I should explain before I put the Question on clause 1 that if a Member wishes to substitute new clause 1 for clauses 1 and 2, he or she should vote no to clauses 1 and 2 standing part of the Bill. We will come to the decision on whether to add new clause 1 and new schedule 1 to the Bill later.