My Lords, service personnel discharged or dismissed in respect of their sexuality retained their accrued pension rights. The Ministry of Defence and Office for Veterans’ Affairs have jointly commissioned an independent review into the impacts and implications of such discharge or dismissal, and insights into the experience of veterans and the recommendations that the review provides will be carefully considered by the Government when considering how to address the legacy of LGBT historic hurt. The review underlines the Government’s unwavering commitment to our veteran and LGBT+ community.
I first pay tribute to my noble friend for facing up to the terrible injustice that gay servicemen suffered for so long. In a debate nearly a year ago, she said that the Government intended to
“swiftly put in place a series of steps to address past wrongs.”—[Official Report, 2/11/21; col. GC 348.]
The review now being carried out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton—the best possible person for the task—is a hugely important step. But should the Government not start paying full pensions, without further delay? Did they note the comments from Fighting with Pride, the charity that supports LGBT veterans, in January:
“Thousands of LGBT+ veterans still live in shame and poverty”?
Is it not the Government’s task to address this as rapidly as possible?
Many in your Lordships’ Chamber will have much sympathy with what my noble friend is saying. I observe that the Armed Forces Pension Scheme is not concerned with the terms and conditions of employment surrounding the circumstances of dismissal; that is to do with the environment in which Armed Forces personnel were engaged and served. There is no provision in the Armed Forces Pension Scheme that is discriminatory on the basis of a member’s sexuality, and it is not possible in law to amend the scheme rules so that they have retrospective effect.
At the heart of the review by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, is consideration of the impact of the policy observed by the Armed Forces between 1967 and 2000 on Armed Forces personnel who were dismissed on the grounds of sexuality. As my noble friend observed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, is ideally placed to carry out this review. We look forward to his conclusion and recommendations, which we will consider very carefully.
My Lords, I first raised this issue with the Defence Select Committee in 1991. Some 31 years later, we are still waiting for this grave injustice to be addressed. While I wholly support the important review by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, I ask the Government to think again and take immediate and specific action to address this issue of pensions faced by an ageing population.
Relatedly, when will the Government commence provisions in Part 12 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 to allow service personnel and others who were prosecuted on the grounds of sexual orientation to gain the justice they deserve?
I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and to my noble friend Lord Lexden for their unstinting commitment to these issues. To start with the first part of the noble Lord’s question, I do not think there is much I can add to what I have already said to my noble friend. It is within the scope of the inquiry by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, to look at all the impacts on personnel who were dismissed. They may include social, family and financial impacts. That is why it is very important that we let the noble and learned Lord conduct his inquiry and then observe his recommendations.
On Part 12 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, the scheme is led by the Home Office and the MoD. We are committed to bringing those provisions into force as soon as possible. Officials are already working on the necessary technical criteria—and they are fairly complex—to ensure that the legislation ultimately works as smoothly as possible. We expect to launch the extended scheme in the first quarter of 2023.
My Lords, two factors in particular will impede progress on this area. One is that we have incomplete military records, often completed in code and with euphemism. We also know that former military staff are overrepresented in the homeless population. Will the Government please ensure that the review by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, can have access to specialist historians who are adept at reading military records, and that they are enabled to work with a vast range of LGBT and homelessness charities to track down the people who have suffered the worst effects of this policy?
I can tell the noble Baroness that the call for evidence that commenced in August has been extended to 1 December to provide the fullest opportunity for people to contribute. The review team continues to meet stakeholders. The chair has been meeting senior veteran charity officials and senior military officers to gain their insight. The team has also been investigating historical records to develop an in-depth chronology of the ban. The efforts to obtain testimony and make sure that the review is fully informed are very extensive.
My Lords, my question is further to that asked by my noble friend Lord Cashman and the similar question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden. Similar to the decision to pay interim compensation to the victims of the infected blood scandal while that inquiry continued because of the urgency of the case, is this not a case where a presumption in favour of generosity should be made so that compensation can be paid in some form to the victims of this dreadful decision now? The moral case is plain and Ministers, including our Minister, have repeated it. Surely the MoD’s own records would make such a restitution relatively easy to administer.
In fact, we do not have the numbers. That is one of the difficulties. As the noble Lord is probably aware, in the early 2000s, the MoD settled a number of claims from former members of the Armed Forces who had been dismissed for being LGBT. The compensation awarded to claimants consisted of damages for loss of earnings, loss of pension and injury to feelings.
We must not pre-empt what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, is undertaking. We should leave him as an independent reviewer to carry out his full scope of inquiry, analyse the responses, come to conclusions and decide what recommendations are important for the Government to look at. There is a need for consistency in how we seek to redress these issues.
My Lords, the Minister has told us that the report by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, is due in May next year. At the moment, it is a stain on our country that thousands of LGBT servicepeople were discharged from service prior to 2000. Can she confirm that, when that report is published next May, the Government will respond to it quickly, take account of whatever the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, comes up with, and that we right this wrong?
I reassure the noble Lord that the Government have undertaken to look very closely at the recommendations of the report by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. As has been indicated to previous questioners, there is a desire on the Government’s part to rectify what has been wrong. No one is disputing that a wrong took place. However, we want to address it extensively, sympathetically and consistently.
My Lords, the Government’s decision to ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, to conduct this review was rightly widely welcomed, as have been the campaigns by my noble friend Lord Lexden, the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and others in your Lordships’ House. What are the Government doing to get the message out to encourage the largest number of people possible to come forward to inform that review? Are they satisfied that good numbers are already doing so?
I can say to my noble friend that widespread information has been provided about how to give evidence and where the portals are to provide that evidence—it might be in person, virtually or by written submission. I understand that the review has already received more than 500 responses from across the whole of the UK. Indeed, we expect numbers to exceed 1,000. That is indicative of a very healthy level of interest and a very welcome willingness to contribute to the review process.