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Independent Review: Armed Forces Homosexuality Ban

Volume 831: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government when they expect to publish the report of the independent review, chaired by Lord Etherton, into the impact on military veterans of the pre-2000 ban on homosexuality in the armed forces, along with their response to the report.

The Government have today published the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and accepted in principle the vast majority of the recommendations. As the Defence Secretary set out, while we agree with the intent behind them, there are a number which we will deliver in a slightly different way from that described in the report. We will set out these differences when we publish the Government’s full response to the review after the Summer Recess. Earlier today in the other place, my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence apologised. Today in this House I repeat those apologies. From this Dispatch Box, I apologise on behalf of the Government and the Armed Forces, and I am profoundly sorry for all that our LGBT personnel suffered.

My Lords, is it not an interesting coincidence that this Question should come up on the very day that the Government finally published the excellent and long-awaited report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton? Could it possibly be that my little Question, tabled a month ago, helped in some small way to end the delay in releasing this report—so meticulously prepared by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and delivered to the Government in May, bang on time—which had distressed many LGBT veterans? I hope that the Statement delivered in the Commons by the Secretary of State for Defence earlier today will be repeated in your Lordships’ House before the Recess. Finally, does not the full apology delivered by our Prime Minister today set the scene quite admirably for the substantial reparation that must be made to LGBT veterans who served their country with devotion, only to have their lives ruined because of their sexuality?

I much respect the views being expressed by my noble friend. An eminent theologian once said to me that anyone who believes in coincidences must lead a very boring life and I could never accuse my noble friend of that. He makes an important point. There was a desire to bring the report forward and to publish it and I absolutely accept that my noble friend’s Question has been most timely in respect of this Chamber. On the matter of further procedure within the Chamber, he will understand that that is for others—my noble friends the Leader and the Chief Whip, with their counterparts through the usual channels—to determine. However, I am confident that, as the Secretary of State indicated in the other place, this Chamber will want to debate this report and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for a forensic and meticulously comprehensive report. It is a most informative, extremely disturbing and, at times, appallingly repugnant read. It has shone light where light needed to be shone—there is not a shadow of a doubt—and we are all indebted to the noble and learned Lord for his assiduous work and his contribution to this vital issue.

My Lords, I too commend this report and congratulate the noble and learned Lord on what, as the Minister has said, is a deeply harrowing yet forensic report. I think it will put right the wrongs that have been done to LGBT service personnel across the generations. I pay tribute to Elaine Chambers and Robert Ely, who set up Rank Outsiders in the early 1990s, which campaigned to end the ban on gays serving in the military. Will the Minister consider setting up an active task force to ensure that the 49 recommendations across government departments are brought forward, not least on service records, pensions and compensation? Further delay will only cause deeper tragedy.

I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks, and I think there was a lot of sympathy across the Chamber with what he said. I would observe that, as the Secretary of State was explicit about today in the other place, we are going to look comprehensively at the recommendations but we need to do that in conjunction with organisations such as that to which the noble Lord referred; and I pay tribute to them. They were indeed the founders of the pressure to ensure that at some point this was all laid open, exposed and examined and they deserve credit for their persistence. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in the other place that we will work extensively over the summer in consultation with all those who have an interest in this. We want to get it right and ensure that the recommendations so appropriately articulated by the noble and learned Lord get due consideration and we all understand what the consequences are and what the best route for delivery may be. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State said we accept the spirit of the recommendations and I repeat that in this Chamber.

My Lords, speaking in the other place, the Secretary of State assumed that Members would have had a chance to read the testimonials. Unless people have done a speed-reading course, I suspect that so far we have not been able to do that. The Secretary of State also said that the Government have implemented six of the 49 recommendations already, without stipulating what they were, other than the apology. Can the Minister elaborate? Can she say also whether there will be an apology to the families of those LGBT veterans who are no longer with us but whose lives were blighted by the ban and whose families were therefore affected?

I can say to the noble Baroness that already we have taken proactive measures such as implementing various inclusive policies—that was important —including the provision of pre-exposure HIV prophylaxis. We have introduced a guide for parents of LGBT children and LGBT+ allies training. We have several thriving LGBT+ staff networks and a LGBT+ community which regularly parades in Fighting with Pride marches and does so with pride. I had the privilege of meeting them at a reception last year and my right honourable friend the Minister for Defence, People, Veterans and Service Families was with them this year. In addition, we have today launched an “LGBT veterans: support and next steps” GOV.UK page, which is now live and available for anyone who was impacted by the policy to explore the support, services and restorative measures available to veterans. The recommendations also specifically provided for apologies, which we acknowledge as being absolutely necessary. In relation to the successors and relatives of those who have died, I think the apologies of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence were all-encompassing. The Prime Minister’s was on behalf of the British state to all affected.

Does the Minister agree that my noble and learned friend’s report should be seen as a paradigm across other sectors in both the public sector and the private sector; for example, in banking, where there is still discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, often fairly covert?

I agree with the noble Lord. I think “paradigm” is a very appropriate noun to attribute to the noble and learned Lord’s report. I am disturbed to hear that there are other areas and sectors where such behaviour is lurking. My advice to anybody in those sectors is to call it out, expose it, shine a light on it and make sure that the miscreants, transgressors and culprits are all put into public view and dealt with appropriately.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, on his Question and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, on his report, which I have managed to look at. I am sorry that I have not yet read it. It was good to hear the Minister’s apology on behalf of the nation, as well as the apologies of the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary. I think all of us would wish to join in that apology. It is important for us in the remarks that we make today to pay tribute to those who have had the bravery to come forward and share their testimonies with us. For those who have not read the report, it is horrific, with unscientific methods of investigation into individuals, prejudice, discrimination, bullying and harassment, and Armed Forces personnel having their medals, which were often given for gallantry, taken away. It is an appalling saga, and let us hope that the recommendations are implemented quickly and that we can move forward out of this horror and ensure that in today’s Armed Forces none of that prejudice exists.

I associate myself with everything the noble Lord has said. I was struck by part of the narrative. At page 53 of the report, the noble and learned Lord wrote:

“In broad terms, the responses to the Call for Evidence paint a vivid picture of overt homophobia at all levels of the armed forces during the period 1967 to 2000 and of the bullying that inevitably reflected it”.

The noble Lord is correct that some of the testimonies are absolutely nauseating and reveal treatment and behaviour that are beyond belief. The noble Lord is absolutely correct that to have the courage to come forward—it is obvious from the report how many people did come forward—was an extraordinary commitment and demonstration of bravery, and I cannot congratulate, commend or thank them too much because without their evidence, despite all the best efforts of the noble and learned Lord, this report would perhaps lack the impact and the undeniable punch which it has had.