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Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary
Statement to the Commons
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The BBC's Reeta Chakrabarti reports
"A successful legal challenge last year meant its days were numbered"
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The BBC's Nick Robinson reports
"A very significant symbolic change has been made to the rights of homosexuals"
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Head to head debate
Tory MP Julian Brazier and former RAF flier John Nichol
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Duncan Lustig-Prean, former Lieutenant Commander
"Recruitment may well be helped"
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Colonel Andrew Duncan
"You've got to have a code of conduct"
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Wednesday, 12 January, 2000, 19:55 GMT
Services gay ban lifted

services The code of conduct will also apply to heterosexuals

The ban on homosexuals in the UK armed forces is being lifted with immediate effect. Gay rights campaigners have hailed the move as an important and long overdue step on the road to equality.

hoon Geoff Hoon: Ban "not legally sustainable"

Angela Mason, executive director of the pressure group Stonewall, said: "It is a good day for us and a good day for society."

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon outlined a new code of conduct on Wednesday covering personal relations in the forces which will operate for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike in the services.

In a Commons statement Mr Hoon said the rules would recognise that sexual orientation was "essentially a private matter for the individual".

Click here to read the code of conduct

Under a service test set down in the code, disciplinary action would only be taken if a personal relationship or an individual's behaviour damaged "efficiency or operational effectiveness".

Mr Hoon said: "As no primary or secondary legislation is required, with effect from today, homosexuality will no longer be a bar to service in Britain's armed forces."

However, Conservatives claimed the lifting of the ban could undermine the effectiveness of the military and insisted it would be opposed by many service personnel.

Have the actions or behaviour of an individual adversely impacted or are they likely to impact on the efficiency or operational effectiveness of the service?
The code of conduct test

Ministers have sought to end the ban since the European Court of Human Rights ruled in September last year that existing regulations were a "grave interference" in people's private lives.

The landmark judgement was made in a case in which the government was sued by four former military personnel who were sacked from the services for being gay.

The ruling meant that the ban "was not legally sustainable", said Mr Hoon.

Shadow defence secretary Iain Duncan Smith said his party regretted the European Court's decision.

He added: "This has never been about prejudice but about the operational effectiveness of our armed forces."

He went on: "I believe and have always believed, as the previous government did, that we should follow the advice of the armed forces which has always been that lifting the ban would adversely affect operational effectiveness."

Mr Duncan Smith called for a "fundamental review" of the effect of the code as soon as possible.

Guthrie General Sir Charles Guthrie: Gays in the military will be treated with respect

However, his assertion that the changes would be universally opposed in the ranks appeared to be contradicted by the head of the armed services General Sir Charles Guthrie.

Praising the new rules, he said: "What we really want to make clear is that everybody in the services, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual, has rights. They are going to be treated with respect.

"I think that this code of conduct will be a great help to commanding officers who have to review cases and consider certain situations."

This appalling decision will be greeted with dismay, particularly by ordinary soldiers in Her Majesty's forces, many of whom joined the services precisely because they wished to turn their backs on some of the values of modern society
Tory MP Gerald Howarth

'A new beginning'

The end of the ban was also warmly welcomed by former Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Duncan Lustig-Prean, who was discharged in 1994 because of his sexuality.

Mr Lustig-Prean, who now has a career in property development and management, added: "There are people who are in the armed forces who will be able to sleep a little bit better tonight knowing that there won't be a knock on the door.

"This is a new beginning."

He said he missed the armed forces, where he had been looking forward to a high-flying career, and would consider going back if the opportunities were right.

Keetch Paul Keetch: Services have to accept change

He added: "I would want to know exactly what they were offering before going back. I really miss the armed forces. I dream about the services almost every night."

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Paul Keetch urged service personnel not to resist the change.

"I have to say our armed forces must reflect the make up of the modern society from which they are drawn," he said.

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See also:
27 Sep 99 |  UK
Head to head: Gays in the military
27 Sep 99 |  UK
Gays win military legal battle
27 Sep 99 |  UK
Gays struggle for workplace rights

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