Labour on the march to criminalise soldier insults

A verbal assault against armed forces personnel and their relatives could become a criminal offence if Labour gets into government.

The opposition frontbench has given its backing to a backbencher's private member's bill which would criminalise either physically or verbally assaulting a member of the armed forces or their family.

Thomas Docherty, the MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, will attempt to persuade the Commons that armed forces personnel should have special protection later.

His bill is being supported by Labour's frontbench, meaning it could become law if Ed Miliband becomes prime minister in 2015.

"It's sad to think that those who fight for our country might need the protection of our laws, but some do," shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker said.

"Our dedicated and committed servicemen and women should be treated with the dignity that their bravery deserves, and this will help ensure that is the case."

Under the change Britain's armed forces would also be protected against discrimination in the same way as ethnic minorities, disabled people and lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals.

Polls have suggested one in five military personnel have been refused service in a bar or hotel because of concerns that they could cause trouble.

Opponents to the reform may point to Lancet research which shows there is a strong correlation between aggressive behaviour in Britain and psychological trauma experienced in overseas theatres like Afghanistan and Iraq, however.

Action on the issue from Docherty and the Labour frontbench's pledge follows the government's reluctance to address the issue in its armed forces covenant report last year.

"My bill proposes introducing a straightforward measure that would provide long overdue protection to those brave men and women who serve our nation," Docherty said ahead of the debate.

"It is only right that those who risk their lives overseas to protect our freedom are themselves protected from mindless yobs and from bigotry when they return home."