Discrimination against military to become crime

Kim Sengupta
Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The Government is to bring in new laws making it a criminal offence to discriminate against people in military uniform and impose extra penalties on those convicted of assault or harassment of service personnel.

The new legislation will be among 40 recommendations in a report adopted by the Government, including an Armed Forces Day bank holiday and a drive to enrol state school pupils into cadet forces.

The report, National Recognition of our Armed Forces, was compiled by the MP Quentin Davies at the request of the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and attempts to address what is seen as a lack of knowledge about the military.

The study suggests that the media and parliamentarians should have more open access to military personnel and an officer should be stationed at the House of Commons to give technical advice to MPs over laws involving the services. There are further recommendations for raising awareness about the military in the national curriculum and holding homecoming parades for troops returning from combat zones.

The introduction of the new laws, the most controversial of the measures, follows a small number of high-profile incidents in which service personnel have been barred from premises and others abused in public. In one instance, an Army officer in uniform was refused entry to Harrods department store on Remembrance Day and, on another occasion, RAF personnel were abused on a street in Peterborough.

Existing legislation covers cases of harassment and intimidation, but the report suggests that targeting the military should be viewed as an aggravating factor to be considered in sentencing. The Armed Forces minister, Bob Ainsworth, said that talks will be held with the Crown Prosecution Service over the legislation.

The National Union of Teachers voted at its annual conference this year to oppose military recruitment in schools because it often employed "misleading propaganda". Mr Ainsworth insisted that motions passed by the NUT "did not necessarily reflect the views of all schools and teachers and this would not be detrimental" to the setting up of cadet forces at state schools.

Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools, and said: "I believe Combined Cadet Forces can make a huge difference ... This is not just about recruitment, this is about personal development and educational opportunities."

Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: "An Armed Forces Day is welcome, but it will ring hollow for those forces families who put up with sub-standard housing."