Page last updated at 16:39 GMT, Monday, 19 May 2008 17:39 UK

Backing for Armed Forces Day plan

There are only 60 cadet forces in comprehensive schools

An Armed Forces Day public holiday has been recommended by a government-backed study looking into improving public recognition of the military.

The report by MP Quentin Davies also said more state school pupils should be encouraged to join cadet forces.

The 40 recommendations included making it a criminal offence to discriminate against people in military uniform.

Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth said the proposals would better recognise the work of the military.

Veterans' role

Mr Davies' report said the annual public holiday should also recognise the role veterans have played in the armed forces.

It said: "If the government were minded to propose to Parliament the creation of another public holiday, we believe that an Armed Forces and Veterans' Day on a set Friday or Monday at the end of June would be the right solution."

This report provides firm foundations to ensure that the work of our armed forces is better understood and recognised
Bob Ainsworth
Armed Forces Minister

Among the proposals were encouraging military personnel to wear their uniforms in public; including military awareness in the national curriculum; and ensuring homecoming parades for troops returning from combat.

Other recommendations included:

  • Examining the revival of the Royal Tournament, a televised military tattoo last held in 1999
  • Relaxing the rules regarding contact with the media for senior officers
  • Allowing commanding officers to accept hospitality invitations for cultural or sporting events
  • Encouraging closer contacts between individual military units and local MPs
  • Servicemen given a day on duty to visit their old school to meet teachers and pupils
  • Up to 750,000 of the budget for military museums to subsidise transport for school groups
  • Increasing uniformed military attendance at major sporting events, including the 2012 Olympics

The proposal on discrimination follows several high-profile incidents, including one when an army officer in uniform was refused entry to Harrods' London department store on Remembrance Day.

Troops at Birmingham and Edinburgh airports were told to change into civilian clothes, and RAF personnel have been intimidated and abused in Peterborough.

Mr Ainsworth said such events were "totally and utterly unacceptable".

'Huge debt'

The government believes gaining a better understanding of the military should start in schools and wants to offer more state pupils the opportunity to get involved with cadet units.

There are currently 60 cadet forces in comprehensive schools in England and Wales, compared with 200 in grammar and independent schools.

The purpose of the Armed Forces Day is misjudged. People do not resent Army personnel, but the war in Iraq.
Peter Jones

Although military training could provide young people with skills it should not be made compulsory, Mr Davies said.

Mr Ainsworth said the cross-government Service Personnel Command Paper would soon be published, which would set out the government's proposals for "further improving the lives of our troops, their families and veterans".

The Ministry of Defence welcomed the report and said some of the recommendations were already being worked on.

The Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen Timothy Granville-Chapman, said: "Mr Davies's report highlights the huge debt the nation owes to its sailors, soldiers and airmen.

"There is increasing public acknowledgement of this, and support for the armed forces in terms of homecoming parades and charitable giving has been received very well by those in uniform."


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Albert Beale, of the pacifist Peace Pledge Union, said he disagreed with the concept of an Armed Forces Day.

"The idea that we celebrate the fact that people go around killing one another is just an anathema to me," he said.

The CBI, which represents business leaders, supported the idea of celebrating the armed forces but said it should be done on an existing bank holiday.

Deputy director-general John Cridland said: "Statutory holiday entitlement is being increased from 20 to 28 days over the next two years, which will be a big improvement for many workers but comes at a substantial cost to firms.

"Offering staff an extra bank holiday would cost the economy up to 6bn on top."

Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox said: "It's pleasing to see that the government appears now to be paying attention to concerns we and others have been voicing for months about the need for a better relationship between the armed forces, government and society.

"We note they have taken on board our suggestions to expand the role of cadet forces in state schools, to encourage service personnel to wear their uniforms more and to encourage discount offers to serving personnel and veterans."

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Nick Harvey welcomed the report and said many of the proposals were good common sense.

"It is essential that the British public understands the huge sacrifice and commitment made by our servicemen and women," he said.

Last year, Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the Army, expressed concerns about a "growing gulf between the Army and the nation".

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