My Lords, the Government are supporting this Saturday’s Armed Forces Day in many different ways. Members of the Armed Forces are involved in events up and down the country, from parades to fly-pasts, including the national event in Plymouth. As well as meeting the costs of this participation, the Ministry of Defence has made grants of some £223,000 to help communities to organise their own events. In addition, reservists were invited to wear their uniforms to work yesterday, and Armed Forces veterans were encouraged to wear their veterans’ badge. As part of the build-up to Armed Forces Day, show your support flags will be flown on all government buildings and town halls, and some local authorities are taking the opportunity to sign up to their own community covenants. This all adds up to a wide-ranging celebration of what our Armed Forces bring to this country.
My Lords, yesterday we had a Question about discrimination against our Armed Forces, and another example has been reported in the press this morning. Earlier this week, we saw Ben Parkinson carrying the Olympic torch through Doncaster. He suffered appalling injuries in Afghanistan in 2006—the loss of both legs, and brain and back injuries, which are euphemistically described as life-changing injuries. Ben Parkinson carried the torch for 300 metres. It took him 25 minutes to complete the walk. It was an act of great determination, guts and, yes, courage.
It is so that we can express our thanks, gratitude and support to our Armed Forces and veterans, and the enormous sacrifices that so many have made on our behalf, including giving their lives, that we have Armed Forces Day. In thanking the Minister for his comprehensive reply, may I ask whether the Government will review the levels of future support that we as a nation give, in whatever form, to Armed Forces Day to ensure that the crucial role undertaken on our behalf and the sacrifices made by our Armed Forces continue to be fully understood and appreciated, including by the minority of individuals and organisations who knowingly or unknowingly still discriminate against Armed Forces personnel?
My Lords, the Armed Forces will be very grateful for the Opposition’s continued support, and I share the noble Lord’s admiration for the courage of Ben Parkinson in Doncaster. With regard to discrimination, the Cabinet sub-committee on the Armed Forces covenant, chaired by Oliver Letwin, will oversee work across government and ensure that momentum on all strands of the covenant is maintained. The noble Lord asked whether we are doing enough to spread the message. Armed Forces Day now has over 1 million followers on Facebook, and this shows just how much the day has caught the imagination of people in this country. We will keep the level of assistance that we provide under review. However, one of the most remarkable features of Armed Forces Day is the way in which the lead is being taken by communities themselves, rather than here in Whitehall.
My Lords, it fairly reflects the view of those who are serving, have served in or are veterans of our Armed Forces when they say how grateful they are for the upsurge in support from the British public over the past four or five years for what they have been doing. However, there are genuine concerns about the sustainability of Armed Forces Day, notwithstanding the Minister’s previous Answer. Will he consider asking his officials to conduct a survey in the coming months of the number of cities, towns and communities that have laid on activities for this Armed Forces Day, compare them with the activities on Remembrance Sunday and the remembrance period, and try to validate the thought that a better model for the sustainable recognition of our Armed Forces in the future might be to combine on one day—probably in November—the celebration of those who have served our nation in uniform with remembering the sacrifice of those who have lost their lives?
My Lords, I will certainly take the noble Lord’s suggestion back to my department. I can assure him that I have a list here of all the events taking place throughout the country, and there seems to be a great deal of enthusiasm from all sections of the country.
In replying to a debate on 19 June about Armed Forces Day, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence said:
“former service personnel were encouraged to wear a veterans’ badge”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/6/12; col. 194WH.]
Does my noble friend feel that the time has come to stop prevaricating in committees and to introduce a national defence medal to be awarded on application to all those who have served our country in the Armed Forces, and to cut all red tape and allow our service personnel to proudly wear all medals awarded to them by other nations?
My Lords, the independent review by Sir John Holmes of the rules applicable to the awarding of military medals is currently under way. He is considering all known campaigns for medals, including the case for a national defence medal, and will report reasonably soon.
I know the noble Lord is a great supporter of our Armed Forces and stands up for them on many occasions. Will he therefore join me in condemning the absolutely despicable behaviour of the publican of Browns bar in Coventry the other day who refused to admit two soldiers, who had been taking part in a military funeral, because they were wearing their uniforms? Will he look again at the recommendations—there were 40 in all—of the national recognition of the Armed Forces inquiry in the last Parliament? One of those recommendations was that we should outlaw discrimination against armed services personnel and provide the same kind of protection that we provide against discrimination on grounds of sex, race, sexuality or disability, so that these incidents never happen again.
My Lords, I agree entirely with what the noble Lord said about that terrible act in the bar at the time of the funeral of the serviceman who was killed. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who commissioned the report of inquiry into national recognition of the Armed Forces when he was Defence Minister, which of course led to the setting up of Armed Forces Day.
My Lords, Wear Your Uniform to Work Day took place yesterday, when all reservist and cadet organisations were encouraged to wear their uniform to work to highlight their important role in the defence of our country. The Plymouth event promises to be a spectacular occasion, with a tri-service parade; a fly-past by Typhoons, historic aircraft and the Red Arrows; a steam-past led by HMS “Argyll”; and lots of other service equipment on show. I am delighted that the city of Plymouth has fully embraced its opportunity to host the national event this year.