Select Committee on Defence Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Further Memorandum from the Ministry of Defence (1 December 2000)


  The European Court of Human Rights ruling of 27 September 1999 made it quite clear that the bar against homosexuals serving in the Armed Forces was unsustainable and in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK ratified the convention in 1951, and has been bound by Treaty obligations to accept the ruling of the European Court since that time. This has been the position of successive governments of both parties.

  As a result, the Chief of Defence Staff announced on 30 September 1999 that a review of the current homosexual policy in the Armed Forces was to be undertaken, with a view to making recommendations to Ministers as soon as possible. It was emphasised that the review needed to identify a ". . . long term policy and sustainable code of conduct that retained our operational effectiveness and was within the law."

  It was paramount to ensure that MoD's policy on homosexuality met both Service needs and the legal requirements of the European Courts' ruling. A number of different options were examined, with the clear recommendation being for a policy that was underpinned by a new Code of Social Conduct for the Armed Forces. This is based on personal behaviour and applies equally to all Service personnel, without the need to refer to sexual orientation. The new policy was formulated in full consultation with the Service Chiefs and was announced to Parliament by the Secretary of State (the Rt Hon Geoff Hoon) on 12 January 2000.

  All commanding officers were provided with a comprehensive briefing pack containing details of the new policy and guidance notes on its implementation. These notes were based on a range of key principles, one of which is that they have a duty of care to all personnel under their command, regardless of sexual orientation. The Single Service Chiefs of Staff recognised the need for change. They were, and remain, committed to making the policy work. Strong leadership—a traditionally strong quality of the Armed Forces—from the top down was, and remains, crucial to the success of the policy.

  A number of other changes and decisions were made initially. Members of the public who apply to join the Services through recruiting offices are not now asked about their sexual orientation. The matter is now considered utterly private. If they volunteer the information that they are homosexual this makes no difference and no record is made. As it is now considered to be a private matter, the Services are setting no quotas for the recruitment of homosexuals nor monitoring performance against any equal opportunity targets.

  We have made it clear since the adoption of the policy that we operate a rule of zero tolerance towards any harassment, bullying or victimisation for whatever reason. Everyone within the Services is now governed by the new Code of Social Conduct.

  This Code sets out several guidelines when considering social misconduct including inappropriate personal behaviour and its consequences. It does not differentiate between heterosexual and homosexual personnel. There must be, and be seen to be, equal treatment for all.

  The policy has been kept under active review, and the first feedback report was received from the Services in August this year covering the first six months after the introduction of the revised policy and the accompanying Code of Social Conduct. The three Single Services were invited to comment on a range of issues relating to the change and what they saw as developments arising from it.

  It was stated at the sixth-monthly stage that there had been no reported difficulties of note concerning homophobic behaviour amongst Service Personnel. In addition to this, every unit has appointed a trained Equal Opportunities Advisor who is the commanding officer's personal consultant on such issues. There are also a number of Service welfare agencies and a confidential helpline available to advise members of the Armed Forces on what action to take if they feel they are being persecuted for whatever reasons.

  The three Services reported that the revised policy on homosexuality had had no discernible impact, either positive or negative, on recruitment. Interestingly, some areas that had previously been closed to the Forces, such as some Student Union "Freshers' Fairs", are now open to the Services.

  The Code of Social Conduct has been well received and has been found to be a useful guide for commanding officers in dealing with all issues surrounding personal relationships and behaviour, going wider than just homosexual issues.

  The subject has also been integrated as an important element of training at the Tri-Service Equal Opportunities Training Centre (the first of its kind in Europe, and where our unit Equal Opportunities Advisors are trained in a week-long course) at Shrivenham and the new policy is discussed at various stages throughout the courses there. As stated before, we recognise that, for it to work, there must be firm leadership.

  Within the Services, the change in policy was accepted as inevitable, although there were some initial misgivings, the majority of which were in regard to the practical aspects of implementation and its consequences, often centred on shared accommodation.

  Since then there has been widespread acceptance of the new policy in part because of the underlying principle, embodied in the Code of Social Conduct, that sexual orientation is now regarded as a private matter, and in part because people have demonstrated a mature and pragmatic approach.

  As the House of Commons Defence Committee has stated its intention to continue to monitor the policy and we therefore plan to undertake a further internal management review in two years time. The change has been introduced smoothly and no further changes are planned at the present time to either the policy, the Code of Social Conduct, or the content of our training courses.

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Prepared 23 February 2001