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LGBT Veterans Independent Review

Volume 742: debated on Wednesday 13 December 2023

With permission, I would like to set out the Government’s formal response to Lord Etherton’s LGBT veterans independent review.

The treatment of those armed forces personnel perceived to be LGBT between 1967 and 2000 has long been a stain on the conscience of the nation. Last year, this Government asked Lord Etherton to conduct a review into the impact of the historic ban on homosexuality in Defence. Following the call for evidence, the inquiry received 1,128 responses from those who were dismissed or discharged because of their sexual orientation; from those who felt compelled to resign, purchase their release from service or curtail their contracts because of the ban; and from those who, while not part of the LGBT community, witnessed the trauma of such antediluvian rules, as family members, colleagues or friends. Etherton paints an unflinching picture of the most shocking treatment of gay members of our Defence community by an institutionally homophobic organisation.

Out of the blue, when applying to be a reservist in 1980, I was asked if I was gay. Even then that struck me as hugely inappropriate, but that strong sense of impropriety, which has stayed with me for 43 years, pales into insignificance against the wall of hurt experienced by LGBT people in the course of their Defence journey, much of it evidenced by Terence Etherton.

Different members of the community have been impacted differently. Yet, for each and every one, the repercussions were enduring, with the tentacles reaching into all dimensions of their lives since. Sadly, we cannot turn back the clock, but we can apologise for decades of hurt. That is what the Prime Minister did after Lord Etherton published his report in July and what the Defence Secretary and chiefs of service have done in their turn. However, apologies alone are not enough.

Etherton demands more and we agree. That is why the Government took steps to right historic wrongs, even before the report was published. In 2021, we began handing back medals to anyone who had had them withheld or removed because of their sexuality. Medals matter; they should never have been snatched away. In December 2021, we removed the barriers that prevented those living with HIV from joining the military and, back in June, the Home Office extended its disregard and pardon scheme, wiping historic convictions for same-sex sexual activity. The extension was especially important for veterans, because it broadened the eligibility to include any same-sex conviction that would not be a crime today, thereby covering service disciplinary offences.

In addition, we published guidance helping to make LGBT veterans aware of things to which they might not have felt they were entitled. That includes information on mental and physical health support, as well as benefits that all veterans are able to receive, not to mention the armed forces veterans badge, which I handed out to a number of veterans at this year’s Pride event in London.

However, today we go further still. I can announce we are accepting the intent behind all 49 of Lord Etherton’s recommendations. In fact, to date we have already implemented almost half of them. We have established a legacy website to host the review, the Government response and information collected by the review, including testimonies. Through Op Courage, we are ensuring a focus on the non-combat mental health impacts of the ban.

Significantly, in some instances we have gone above and beyond the review recommendations. For example, Etherton advised making certain restorative measures available for the next of kin of deceased veterans, but we have created a broader definition of next of kin—namely, persons of sufficient interest—recognising the impact the ban may have had on LGBT veterans’ relationships and ensuring that those they would have nominated as next of kin are seen as such. Next year will see the expanded roll-out of the armed forces veterans card to all veterans who served in the UK armed forces before 2018, and planning for a veterans memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum is also now under way.

Today, we are throwing open the front door to our LGBT veterans. Today, we ask them to apply or register an interest for restorative measures that are relevant to them, including individual apology letters, return of berets and cap badges, amendments to veterans’ service history and additional personal testimony to evidence collected by the review. That testimony will eventually become part of the historic record in The National

Archives, signalling that our LGBT veterans will never be forgotten and that 33 years of national shame will never be expunged, and affirming and celebrating the part that those veterans played in our country’s history. I strongly urge colleagues across the House to encourage LGBT constituents to come forward, read the online guide and complete the application form for restorative measures. Importantly, the form will also allow veterans to indicate their interest in applying for a financial award when eligibility is confirmed and that scheme goes live.

Lord Etherton recommended that an appropriate award should be made to affected veterans, with the Government’s overall exposure capped at £50 million. We have agreed to that in full, but, in order to develop the scheme, we will first need to gain a much better understanding of what the affected cohort looks like. Hence, we are calling for veterans to indicate their interest on the form that goes live today. That data will help officials and the community—working together—to design a fair and equitable scheme for distributing the funds that Lord Etherton has called for and that we accept. There will be an opportunity for a full debate in the new year once the financial award scheme is matured and we have the benefit of the data captured through the front door that I am opening today.

Once again, I place on record my gratitude to Lord Etherton and his team for their outstanding work compiling a comprehensive and deeply affecting report. I thank Fighting With Pride and our working group, including trusted stakeholders and independent LGBT veterans, who not only made sure that their voices were heard, but helped steer our response throughout. They will not seek it, but may I mark out Craig Jones and Caroline Paige in particular for their part in bringing us to where we are today? Above all, I pay tribute to all those who came forward in the first place. Those veterans showed tremendous courage in chronicling traumatic experiences, which for many had been suppressed, causing grief and groundless silent shame for decades.

Today’s Defence has come a long way since 2000. We cannot change the past, but we can make the future better. In accepting Lord Etherton’s recommendations, we salute a slighted generation and ensure that its successors can hold their heads high in a place that wants them, values them and honours them. I am today placing a copy of the Government’s response in the Library, and I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Minister for early sight of his statement.

With due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, who is a diligent Minister, this statement should have been made by the Defence Secretary; the last one was. This no-show from the Defence Secretary downgrades the importance that the Government give in July to backing up the Prime Minister’s apology to LGBT+ veterans. Crucially, it undermines the confidence that LGBT veterans will have in the Government being serious about fully implementing the Etherton review and fully righting the injustices arising from the ban on LGBT people serving in our armed forces until 2000.

This is unfinished business for Labour. We lifted the ban in 2000. We argued for the Etherton review in the Armed Forces Bill. We welcomed its publication and recommendations. We again thank Lord Etherton for his review and the inclusive way in which he conducted it.

At the heart of the review were the statements of those who were victims of the overt, often brutal, homophobic policy. We pay tribute to them for sharing their experiences and giving their testimonies. Like the Minister, I also pay tribute to groups such as Fighting With Pride, which have campaigned for justice, along with backing from wider veterans organisations such as the Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes. This is a cause that unites the House.

The previous Defence Secretary, the right hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), said in a powerful and moving statement in July that he had

“decided specifically that a debate in the House should take place”

in order to

“make sure that the House properly debates the report and the Government’s response to it,”

and not just the compensation scheme, as the Minister has implied. Will the Government honour that promise to the House in full? When will that debate take place? To be clear, the debate is of profound importance to veterans. It should be a watershed moment for defence to move beyond the long, shameful shadow of the past, and to say in the future, “We are deeply proud of our LGBT veterans. We honour your service to our nation. You are part of us.”

The previous Defence Secretary also said:

“We will be very happy to work with the Opposition…to discuss our thinking on the recommendations.”—[Official Report, 19 July 2023; Vol. 736, c. 921-24.]

That has not happened. The Minister confirmed today that the Government

“are accepting the intent behind all 49 of Lord Etherton’s recommendations.”

The previous Defence Secretary pointed out that the Government

“may deliver a number”

of those recommendations

“in different ways from that described in the report.”—[Official Report, 19 July 2023; Vol. 736, c. 921.]

In his statement today, the Minister was not clear on that.

We welcome progress on handing back medals, on an armed forces veterans badge and on a national memorial, and we welcome the opening of registrations of interest for the restorative measures, but what action is the Minister taking to ensure that pensions are fully restored to those who were misinformed that their pension rights had been abolished, and to guarantee that those whose evidence of investigations was destroyed in 2010 do not lose out? Will he fully involve Fighting With Pride and other veterans groups in developing the compensation scheme, and confirm that the scheme will make provision for the two main groups proposed by Fighting With Pride? Is the financial provision of £50 million in the 2024 Ministry of Defence budget, and when does he aim to open up the scheme?

We cannot change the past, but we can act to make amends. We can honour the service of our LGBT veterans. We can take pride in the inspiration that they provide to future generations. That is what they, and we across the House, have the right to expect from Ministers.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I gently remind him that it was this Government who set up the Etherton review, and it is this Government who are carrying out the 49 recommendations. I am proud of that. He needs to be very careful: political parties should not throw stones, and I think that he would be the last to try to make party political points out of this subject matter. To a large extent, I think that we have resisted that.

I said that a full debate would happen in the new year, but it must have the advantage of there being something meaningful to debate—namely, the financial elements, which I perceive to be the main point of likely controversy. The right hon. Gentleman made it clear that we are all in agreement with the general thrust of the review, so the controversy will be around how we structure the financial award. I expect to be in a much better place in the new year to bring a suggestion to the House about how we might do that, having consulted others and observed the lessons of the past and experience in other countries. However, the debate will not be confined to the finances. I think that was implied by my use of the phrase “full debate”. I hope that reassures him.

On intent, we have discussed before other ways of delivering the same outcome to the satisfaction of veterans. For example, some veterans want a veterans badge that is different from the existing veterans badge; some do not. We have therefore designed a ribbon, which I have seen the prototype for, and I think that is a compromise. That is an example of how we might do things differently from the ways described by Lord Etherton. Lord Etherton also talked about re-listing people on the Navy, Army and Air Force lists. Those lists do not exist in the way they once did, but we can publish those names, if people want them published, via the London Gazette. That is a further example of doing the same thing, but in a different way.

We debated pensions in the summer, when we last went round this particular buoy, so the right hon. Gentleman will know that accrued pension rights remain. However, some people were misled when they left the armed forces, and I strongly recommend that they refer to the guidance available on The “LGBT veterans: support and next steps” page is very comprehensive and will take people through how they can apply for pensions if they are not currently drawing them.

Destroyed documents, as the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, are impossible to rediscover. However, there are tags attached to most of them that highlight the fact that material has been removed following the advice of the Association of Chief Police Officers in 2010, so there is a marker, at least, of why those pages are missing. He will know too that ACPO made those recommendations for very good reasons at the time—namely, the desire of people who had been wronged to have reference to those wrongs expunged from their records.

I think that I have covered most of the right hon. Gentleman’s points, but I want to be as comprehensive as I possibly can, so if I have missed anything out, I will be happy to write to him.

I welcome the Minister’s statement. Last week, I met Fighting With Pride and one of my constituents, who I will not name because he has not given me permission to do so. Three points came across in that meeting. The first was the importance of testimonies. He was a grown man who had been discharged in the 1980s and whose mother had received a letter from his commanding officer outing him as gay. He was still traumatised and crying in my office last week. This is about making sure that those testimonies are heard. The second point was about having the debate on the Floor of the House and not farming it out to Westminster Hall. Will the Minister make sure that the debate happens on the Floor of the House?

The third point was about financial redress. I welcome the opportunity that my constituent will now have to feed in how he has been impacted—how he has lived a life alone, because he has carried that shame for all these years. On behalf of my constituent and all the other LGBT servicemen and women who suffered in that way, I put it on the record that they want the opportunity to feed in their own stories so that the financial redress addresses the harm they suffered.

My right hon. Friend is right that testimonies are vital. Those testimonies will ultimately be lodged in the National Archives and they will be part of our national story. I urge her to encourage her constituents to log on and provide their testimony—that is very important. I can confirm that the debate will be on the Floor of the House and not in Westminster Hall.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. In it he said:

“The treatment of those armed forces personnel perceived to be LGBT between 1967 and 2000 has long been a stain on the conscience of the nation.”

It has also been a stain on the conscience of this place, so I welcome his statement today and the work of Lord Etherton. The apologies the Minister spoke of are welcome, but they will never take away the hurt or the terrible impact on the lives of those affected by this institutional homophobia. We must remember that while homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967, the ban on LGBT people in the armed forces remained for 33 more years. That is three decades of additional harm. The reality is that all our veterans deserve respect and proper support, and all the more so those ostracised and shamed in that way.

I recognise what the Minister said on reparations, but what assessment has he made of the adequacy of the reparations cap? I wonder how that arbitrary cap on reparations payments will work, particularly when, as he said, we are asking people to come forward. How can he set a cap at this stage? He said he is throwing open the doors today, but that needs to be done in a way that is as easy as possible for people to navigate and that works for all those affected. No one must be left behind.

My colleague Keith Brown MSP, himself a veteran, is leading a Members’ business debate in the Scottish Parliament today on Fighting With Pride. I was pleased that the Minister spoke about Fighting With Pride and I would be keen to hear more about his reassurances that he will continue to work with that group and others to make sure that all LGBT veterans are properly and adequately supported in the way that is right for each of them individually.

The cap is part of the Etherton report. We have accepted all 49 recommendations and are working them through. I do not know—the hon. Lady will have to ask him—but I suspect that Lord Etherton was mindful of the Canadian experience in that regard. The Canadian scheme is not directly comparable to anything we might set up, not least because of its scope, but nevertheless there is precedent and I imagine Lord Etherton was mindful of that. The hon. Lady is right to suggest that we should work with the community, and she cited Fighting With Pride in particular. We have of course done that throughout and I pay tribute to them. We will continue to work with them on the details of the financial scheme as we work those out in the next few months.

When Fighting With Pride described to me, some time ago now, the awful things that we had done to LGBT veterans, it was the worst injustice I had heard of in my 26 years in Parliament. I welcomed the Etherton report, which came about as a result, and I welcome the Minister’s warm, deep and expansive response to it today. The fact that he is accepting all 49 recommendations is vital. The debate is also important, because veterans want to tell their tales through their own MP, and I think that will be a great opportunity to do so. However, like the SNP spokesperson, I have a concern: if the claims that come through the website that the Minister describes come to more than £50 million, will the Government undertake to revisit the cap? It would be crazy if £51 million was applied for, but the cap said that only £50 million could be paid out.

My hon. Friend will know full well that we cannot write a blank cheque. It is just not possible to do that. Lord Etherton came up with £50 million, which is a significant amount of money. He will have been mindful of other schemes, albeit not directly comparable, in this country and overseas. That is why, I believe, the figure of £50 million was arrived at.

I thank the Minister for his statement. Recommendation 16 of the report references pensions. In his statement, he said that people can apply for pension that had been accrued, but some individuals will have expected a pension for longer service but been dismissed before they could accrue it. Will that be taken into account, and will next of kin be able to access those pension benefits?

On the £50 million compensation, which is recommendation 28 of the report, I am a little lost to understand how that will be distributed. If the Minister is going to come up with a scheme, I suggest that he looks at the Post Office Horizon compensation scheme, of which I have been on the advisory board for the last year, helping to develop it. We are going to have to look at what elements are taken into account before we get to an accrued sum. Setting up an advisory board or some steering group to work up the scheme would be a good idea—and let me say that I do not think £50 million will even touch the sides.

There is precedent for such a scheme, as I say—I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the Canadian scheme—so we are not starting with a blank sheet of paper, and neither was Lord Etherton.

On pensions, it is important that those who thought they did not have an entitlement to pensions look again, because accrued pensions are accrued pensions and were not forfeit. I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point about pensions that might have been accrued after the point at which individuals left the service. There is no way of restoring those pensions, and I hope he will understand that. It would be incredibly difficult to do that, so I am not going to give him any encouragement that that will form any part of our deliberations in relation to the financial award.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on women in defence, and of the Defence Committee’s inquiry on women in the armed forces and female veterans, I wholeheartedly welcome the statement and thank Lord Etherton for his work. However, I am also acutely aware of the strength of feeling on this matter, which disproportionately affected women, and on the ban on pregnancy in our armed forces. Our armed forces still have pockets of misogyny, poor leadership and inappropriate behaviour, so will the Minister continue to commit to rooting that out so that we can have a better environment for our armed forces now and in the future?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and predecessor. I pay tribute to her for the work that she has done, not least in her report, which has been extraordinarily impactful. I agree with her 100%: we need to root out misogyny wherever it is found in defence. I hope she will accept that, thanks to her report and the work of others, we have taken significant strides in that direction.

On 9 May 1996, I spoke in this House about the case of John Beckett, one of my constituents. He was a young man who had been in the Royal Navy for five years and was going to train to be an officer. Along with three other young men, he was discharged for being gay. All he had done was to have a civilian gay relationship, about which we had told his padre and his commanding officer, and it was sufficient to have him discharged. We can try to undo the wrongs that were done to John Beckett and others at the time. I know that John got another job afterwards, but can the Minister possibly believe it is right that someone who committed no crime—all he did was offend against the bigotry and prejudice of those who discharged him—will potentially have to suffer financially for the rest of his life for what was done to him? Surely, when we come to look at compensation, the principle ought to be to not merely to rectify the hurt and the prejudice of the time, but to ensure that people do not lose out financially for the rest of their lives.

That is why Lord Etherton has made his recommendations on financial awards. The structuring of that is yet to be determined, but I just want to manage expectations—as I suspect my Canadian counterparts managed the expectations of the Canadian community—about the quantum. I do not want people to think that all that financial loss will be restored to them—it would be unwise of us to suggest that.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned padres. I hope that he reads the Government’s response to the report in full. If he does, he will see that there is a specific section relating to chaplaincy, and contrition on the part of chaplaincy about how some of its practitioners behaved during that period, which I think did them no credit at all. I am very sorry to hear the testimony that he has just given. I encourage his constituent to engage with the front door that I am launching today.

I join others in thanking Lord Etherton and all those who took the brave step of sharing their experience with him to inform the review and all 49 recommendations. Although significant work clearly needs to be done to follow through on those recommendations, will my right hon. Friend consider how we can use this work to help parts of the world that are still facing up to this realisation? They may need to do a wholesale piece of work to understand how they can change the way they deal with the LGBT community among their military personnel and veterans. The change that we are seeing in the UK must not be stopped from happening elsewhere in the world.

None of us has a monopoly on this. We are learning from the Canadian experience, and I expect others will learn from us. Across the board, this country is looked up to as a purveyor of norms and values of the highest order. When, for example, we train people from among our allies in how to conduct themselves, as is happening right now, those norms and values are inculcated, including this material.

In the late ’80s, I was very close to someone who suffered considerably as a result of this ban when she was thrown out of the Army for being a lesbian. She had her distinguished and lengthy period of military service cut short, she was humiliated in the process, and, initially, she found it hard to find employment commensurate with her skills and worth as a human being. All that happened to her just because she was a woman who loved other women. It was a ban based on sexual orientation—nothing more, nothing less. Her loss, and that of others, includes pain and suffering, loss of earnings, loss of employability and loss of pension rights. Any compensation scheme should seek to put them back in the position that they would have been in were it not for that homophobic ban. Can the Minister confirm that all those heads of damages—pain and suffering, loss of earnings, loss of employability and loss of pension rights—will be taken into account in the compensation scheme?

The hon. and learned Lady will be aware that, in the early 2000s, the MOD was taken to court by a significant number of people who had been maligned in the way she has described. The MOD was found wanting and awards were made at that time. I cannot give her the assurances that she seeks because the financial awards scheme—it is a financial awards scheme, not a compensation scheme—is still being worked through, but I hope that we will be able to come back to the House soon to describe at least the bare bones of what we have in mind.

May I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and for the tone in which he delivered it, and express my pleasure that there will be a memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in my constituency? What discussions has he had with colleagues in the Home Office regarding any convictions that there may have been for servicemen in connection with their military service and their sexual orientation?

My hon. Friend will be aware of the disregards and pardons provisions in part 12 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. They have the effect of expunging those offences, which are no longer offences. That clearly applies to what we are debating today. The answer to his question is that that expunging of material will be complete in relation to offences that are service offences and go outwith the civilian—then criminal—offences listed in part 12. [Official Report, 8 January 2024, Vol. 743, c. 2MC.]

My constituent worked for the Secret Intelligence Service between 1975 and 1984. In 1984, he was offered a posting overseas, at which point he declared that he was gay, and he was then dismissed expressly because of his sexual orientation. I thank Lord Etherton for the review and for meeting me to discuss this. Clearly, the review does not cover my constituent, but he and others in his position do not even have the comfort of being able to go public at any point because of the nature of their employment. Has the Minister spoken to colleagues in other parts of Government? If not, will he undertake to do so, because this experience should not be prolonged for those in the secret element of service to this nation?

I am more than happy to discuss the details of that constituent’s concerns separately. This is a review into the way in which Defence handled the matter between 1967 and 2000, and Lord Etherton’s terms of reference were drawn up accordingly. From what the hon. Lady has just told me, I do not think that her constituent will be covered by the review, but I am more than happy to have a conversation.

I commend the Government for commissioning the review and thank Lord Etherton for such a thorough piece of work. I also thank the Government for accepting all 49 of the recommendations—it is pretty unusual to accept all the recommendations, so the Government should be commended for that.

To follow on from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) about the disregards—or “expunging”, as the Minister suggested—am I right in thinking that those who have had service convictions would need to apply? If so, what more can be done to encourage them to apply to the Home Office for those disregards? Perhaps the Ministry of Defence could proactively suggest to them that they could do so.

Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier), the UK intelligence community should not be overlooked. There should perhaps be a second review, or at least some sort of internal review, about the treatment of UK intelligence officers over the past few decades.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. Lord Etherton’s terms of reference were deliberately drawn in the way that they were to focus specifically on defence, but my right hon. Friend has made a reasonable point, and I am sure colleagues across Government will hear what he has said. I am more than happy to have a discussion about this specific case with the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) and with my right hon. Friend, if they wish to do so.

It is important that if we are considering the implications for wider public service, we learn from what has gone before and from this review. I am confident that colleagues right across Government will be looking at what we have proposed doing in response to Lord Etherton’s report today and drawing their own conclusions. Perhaps they can learn from what has gone on and assure themselves that they, in turn, do not have dark corners that need to be given the light that Lord Etherton’s report has certainly given to defence.

I draw attention to my declarations in the Register of Member’s Financial Interests, including those relating to my recent Army Reserve service. I was very happy to be able to do that as an openly gay man alongside many other LGBT+ service personnel who serve us bravely around the world and in this country. That opportunity was not available to the many generations who went before who were equally courageous and brave in the service of our country in so many contexts, but who faced horrific discrimination.

One of those discriminated against was one of my constituents in Cardiff South and Penarth. She was discharged in a totally humiliating way from the RAF in the 1970s for being a lesbian, but in her service record, the reason was recorded as “services no longer required.” I have raised her case with the MOD over many years, but was told that it could not be changed because it was correctly administered. In his statement, the Minister referred to amendments to veterans’ service history, which recommendations 26 and 27 of the report also refer to. Will he confirm that where individuals were discharged for reasons other than their sexuality, but their sexuality was clearly the reason, that will be considered in restitution for them and their service?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman—I remember him raising his constituent’s case when we debated this matter in the summer. The straight answer to his question is “yes”, and I encourage his constituent to go to the front door that is now open to ensure her case is properly examined and, if she wants, references to what happened to her are removed or expunged.

It is impossible to put a price on, or indeed measure, the extent of the grief, trauma and shame that was caused to LGBT veterans, so why should we be putting a financial cap on the compensation they are going to get? When I was at a Fighting With Pride event recently, that grief, trauma and shame were palpable, so I plead with the Minister that although there is much to celebrate in Lord Etherton’s report—I congratulate him and the Government on it—there are clearly shortfalls, and given that nothing has been decided, he could go further. I am sure he agrees, and I think he should do so, given what has been experienced by our LGBT veterans.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. Lord Etherton recommended £50 million, and we have accepted that recommendation. The details of the scheme will be worked out in the next few months, and I hope she will be pleased with what she sees.

We need to know what the cohort looks like. At the moment, we really do not know that, which is why the front door opens today. In a very short while, I hope, with the help of right hon. and hon. Members across the House encouraging their constituents, we will have a better handle on who needs to be marked with this financial reward, and what they suffered at the time and the degree of that. Once we have a handle on that, we will be better placed to design a quantum that will be appropriate to people who were maligned between 1967 and 2000.

I welcome the Government’s recognition of and apology for the persecution, dismissal or forced resignation of LGBT personnel, but the answers the Minister has given are raising more concerns. The first is the cap on reparations, the second is whether there is a deadline for those reparations, and the third is this: if people’s records did not actually state that their dismissal was because of LGBT persecution, how are they meant to prove that it was?

The answer is “with difficulty”, given what happened in 2010 for perfectly understandable and perfectly good reasons—it is the law of unintended consequences, is it not? I cannot give the hon. Lady that detail at the moment, because it is being worked out. It is so very difficult: if everybody had their records marked up, it would be quite straightforward, but they do not. We need to know who the folk are who are in scope, and then we need to look at what records exist. Many of those records had tags placed on them when papers were removed, which I think will help.

We also have to look at other schemes, such as the Canadian scheme. However, I suspect most right hon. and hon. Members in this House would be cautious about the Canadian scheme, because it drew the criteria very narrowly. Those who were nudged out, or inched out, through all sorts of means—innuendo, personal pressure, or being tipped the nod and the wink that somebody was on to them—would be disadvantaged under the Canadian scheme. I hope they will not be disadvantaged under ours.

The RAF lost a courageous serviceperson in 1997 when it sacked Carl Austin-Behan. Carl won the Royal Humane Society bronze medal for rescuing a pilot from a burning Hawk aircraft at RAF Chivenor. Last September, an inquiry found that there had been accelerated enlistment for women and ethnic minority candidates in the RAF, which was found to be dubious and possibly in breach of the Equality Act 2010. Clearly, we are not looking for that sort of overcorrection, but what assessment have the Government made of the legacy of the sackings of people such as Carl for recruiting the next generation of courageous gay service personnel?

Let me be absolutely clear: Defence wants people, regardless of their sex, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and social class. We just want people with talent—that is the touchstone for recruitment into the Army, Navy and Air Force right now. I do not care if people are gay; I welcome gay people serving side by side with everybody else. Our history is full of examples of the most courageous individuals who served in uniform and were gay.

I am privileged to be an ambassador for Fighting With Pride, and I worked with the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs on this matter before he took up his role. I pay tribute to Caroline and Craig in particular, as well as all the people they have been working with.

Fighting With Pride has welcomed the pace, positive intent and completeness of this process, but the next stage is a full debate in this Chamber to which Members can contribute. I hope the Minister will listen to the representations he has heard today. Finally, I put on record my concerns about the £50 million cap and the fact that the Minister has spoken about this being a financial award scheme, not a compensation scheme. I think the Government are in the wrong place on that and that they will end up causing themselves more problems if they do not seek to compensate veterans who have lost livelihoods, careers and pensions through their mistreatment by Government.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s observations. He may like to look up the Canadian scheme, which is a reasonable exemplar, although the circumstances are different. It awarded 110 million Canadian dollars, and this morning a Canadian dollar was worth 58p, but that scheme covered a much broader scope and the population of Canada is smaller than that of the UK. It covered police, the armed forces and civil servants, so the scope was much wider. Although the two are not directly comparable, the Canadian scheme does at least make us feel that we are in the right ballpark. I am afraid I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the commitment he is seeking, but I urge him to look closely at other schemes and certainly at the Canadian one, which is probably the closest comparator we have.

May I impress again on the Minister the importance of hearing LGBT veterans’ voices on the Floor of the House, just as it was important to hear the apology from the Prime Minister at the time? I, too, want to share my concerns about the structure of the scheme that the Minister has talked about. He has referred to a front door; can we have an assurance that that front door will remain open for as long as is needed? Many of our LGBT veterans suffer great trauma and shame, and will be quite far away from that front door. They will need support from trusted partners such as Fighting With Pride to get anywhere near it.

Yes, the front door will remain open, but a stakeholder pack will also be sent to all organisations that we know are interested, urging them to socialise it, which is vital. I cannot emphasise enough that it is vital that those who believe they are eligible for some restorative action—in the first instance, non-financial—should register their interest. In doing so, they are able to register or flag the fact that they may be interested in a financial award as well. Unless we have that data, I think our job of determining what the scheme ultimately looks like will be very difficult, and the sooner we get a handle on that, the sooner we can start to get money out of the door.

This is an issue I raised many times over the five years that I was the armed forces spokesperson for the SNP, so I very much welcome Lord Etherton’s review, and I pay tribute to Caroline and Craig at Fighting With Pride. We have mentioned the spurious reasons for which many LGBT veterans were dismissed. Of course, the other thing is that the colleagues they served with were encouraged to report their supposed misdemeanours. I do think one of the difficulties for the Government will be tracking down all those who have been affected and impacted by this, but it will not just be in their own records. I am sure there must be things in other people’s records that can be tied into this as well.

I want to mention the £50 million. I have done a quick sum, and if the 1,120 people who responded each got a share, it would be £44,000 each, which is an absolute pittance for a lost career, a lost pension, loss of earnings and the loss of a reference to go on to a new career outside the armed forces. We really have to look at that £50 million figure, which does not even touch the surface.

The Canadian scheme offered sums ranging from 100,000 Canadian dollars to 5,000 Canadian dollars depending on what happened. It was tiered in a way that gave a range of awards depending on the experience evidenced, and it was evidenced. It is more difficult when we come to a scheme where evidence is difficult to come by. I think the hon. Member would accept that, for some of the higher level awards, we do have to have some form of evidence that people were forcibly ejected from the armed forces. Now, £50 million is a great deal of money. It is a recommendation in the Etherton report, which we have accepted. We will use that as our guiding star in designing the scheme that we have in mind for financial awards. I am not going to promise her or indeed give her any hope that we will breach the £50 million. It is the Government’s intent that we should stick at that figure.

I want to add my gratitude for the work done by Fighting With Pride and to those affected veterans who gave evidence to the review, including a constituent of mine. In response to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), who is no longer in his place, the Minister mentioned—I hope it was a slip of the tongue—the debate today. I do hope that the debate will be soon in the new year in this Chamber and in Government time.

It is being reported that an earlier draft of the Etherton review recommended double the compensation offer for LGBT veterans than has come out in the final version. Can the Minister tell the House if that was the case and, if so, why the compensation offered has been halved?

I am certainly not aware of that. Lord Etherton is known for his independence, and his report was independent. Lord Etherton said £50 million, and I will leave it at that.