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House of Lords

Tuesday, 23rd May 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

Armed Forces: Exclusion of Homosexuals

Lord Boardman asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they propose to permit known homosexuals to become and remain members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, (Lord Henley): My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that we have no plans to change our policy of excluding homosexuals from the Armed Forces.

Lord Boardman: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. However, does he consider it as being rather revealing—or perhaps rather distressing—that, while government policy has the wholehearted support of the country and particularly of the Armed Forces, nevertheless the shadow spokesman for defence in another place is reported to have said that the ban would be scrapped within one month of the Labour Party coming into government?

Noble Lords: Rubbish!

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am aware of a number of Labour policy announcements on the subject as reported in the press and as further clarified—if I can call it that—by the honourable gentleman in another place. I have to say that there is some confusion as to what is the Labour Party's policy. If there is a policy, I find it rather odd that this seems to be the only subject upon which the Labour Party has announced any proposals in the defence field.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, has the Minister had the opportunity to read the Official Report of another place on the debate regarding the Royal Air Force on 4th May? In that debate, my honourable friend Mr. David Clark said that if the Labour Party came to power and the problems which are outstanding in the courts still remained, we would set up a commission, which obviously would include the Chiefs of Staff, to study the best practices in other armed forces in the world and find what was the best solution for our own Armed Forces. Does the Minister agree that that is a very reasonable way to set about things? Does he further agree—I have not quoted directly so the noble Viscount the Leader of the House can put down his copy of the Companion; indeed, I put it in indirect speech—that it is wise for noble Lords when tabling Starred Questions to do some research before making party political mischief on what is a serious and delicate matter?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I reject that allegation. I think my noble friend conducted quite the appropriate degree of research. I have to say that I believe the policy

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set out by the noble Lord's honourable friends in another place is somewhat confusing. I was merely making the point that if they were going to announce a policy there were slightly more important matters in the defence field upon which we would welcome the thoughts of the party opposite.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, does the Minister understand that memories of yesteryear prove that his statement is completely incorrect? Indeed, there is a question mark over some of our most famous figures in history and their sexual tendencies. Why does the Minister try to hide that now? If the ban had been applied in the past, we may have lost some of our most famous commanders.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord's point takes us any further. I merely announced what our policy is. I announced that our policy is lawful and that we shall continue to defend it robustly.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, is it not a key point that the inclination of gay activists and whether they make good soldiers, sailors or airmen is not the point at issue but rather whether all the other members of the Armed Forces would be prepared to work in harmony and in trust alongside people with those sexual inclinations?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord brings considerable experience to the debate. We greatly welcome his contributions. I believe that the point that the noble and gallant Lord is trying to make—and it is one I should like to underline—is that the nature of service life is very different from civilian life. That point must be borne in mind when making our decisions on the matter.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, irrespective of who is in office, if homosexuals are in Her Majesty's forces there is one problem that confronts them and the officers of their divisions; namely, that they could only operate in very low classification security work?

Lord Henley: My Lords, there are a number of reasons why we believe that it is right to exclude homosexuals from service in the Armed Forces. The noble Lord is right to draw attention to one of those—the security risk. We do not believe that the acceptance of homosexuals into the Armed Forces would necessarily entirely remove that security risk.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that it must be said that many homosexuals in the Armed Forces have performed their duties well without any problems as, indeed, I would suggest, they have done in all other occupations? Fifty years after the war, is it not worth remembering some of the things that happened then? I remember my late father-in-law telling me that one of the most conspicuous acts of gallantry and bravery that he saw in Italy was one performed by a well-known homosexual.

Lord Henley: My Lords, again I am not prepared to discuss what might or might not have been the position in the past. However, I can assure the noble Viscount

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that in the past homosexuals were excluded from the Armed Forces. Homosexuality was then a criminal offence, and homosexuals were thrown out.

Lord Vivian: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that within the Armed Forces homosexuality causes great offence to others? It undermines military discipline; it damages morale and unit efficiency; and, finally, in some cases it leads to bullying.

Lord Henley: My Lords, my noble friend provides further cogent reasons for the belief that our policy is right. If it affects the ability of the Armed Forces to perform their functions it is right to continue that policy.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that should Her Majesty's Government be impleaded before the European Court of Human Rights in this context they will defend the proceedings by exercising their rights of derogation on grounds of national security, or any other grounds? At the same time, will they undertake not to review the Navy, Army and Air Force legislation?

Lord Henley: My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the matter is before the courts at the moment. He will also be aware that we have robustly defended our position at recent hearings. I can give the noble Lord an assurance that should we be taken before any other court, whether it be the European Court of Human Rights or any other, we would robustly defend our position.

Lord Mayhew: My Lords, will the noble Lord not go so far as at least to agree that there is a large and growing proportion of jobs in the services where sexual orientation is wholly irrelevant and should be disregarded?

Lord Henley: My Lords, whether in some jobs sexual orientation is irrelevant is itself irrelevant. The fact is that all members of the Armed Forces are expected to be able to do virtually every job which is open to them. It is not right that people should be allowed into the Armed Forces purely to do one job in which, as the noble Lord puts it, sexual orientation does not matter and therefore be excluded from others.

Lord Boardman: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the Government will not consider changes to their present policy with regard to a ban on homosexuals on the basis of practices in other countries? Secondly, if the ban is challenged in the European courts will Her Majesty's Government do their utmost to resist that challenge?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not believe that the practices of other countries are relevant. There are different rules—for instance, conscription—or different domestic employment laws which influence the policies of those countries. As to whether we might change our policy, this is a matter which is still under consideration by the courts. It would not be appropriate for me to comment in advance of a ruling. However, I can say that we have no present plans to change our policy.

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National Curriculum

2.46 p.m.

Lord Quirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in view of the most recent reports from Ofsted, they now feel that the national curriculum in schools might usefully be supplemented by a national curriculum in teacher-training institutions.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the best way to improve standards is to ensure that training is focused on essential teaching competences. The Government have set out those competences and revised them in recent years to reflect national curriculum requirements. We believe that it is unnecessary to be more prescriptive about course content, which is a matter for the provider, in higher education or elsewhere.

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