HC Deb 04 December 1956 vol 561 cc1017-9
3. Mr. Benn

asked the Secretary of State for War why the advertisement placed in The Times of Malta on 16th January last, seeking applicants for Army apprentice tradesmen, was limited to the sons of British subjects of European race; if he will define the phrase European race; and why he maintains racial discrimination in the British Army.

Mr. John Hare

There is no colour bar in the British Army. Any hon. Member can see this for himself. Candidates for Army apprentice schools must be either British subjects of European race or British subjects or protected persons of non-European race who are resident in the United Kingdom. This rule is not designed to exclude coloured men, who are eligible to apply to join the Army if they are living in this country. The object is to avoid wasting money on transporting from distant places and training men, who might well not settle down to be efficient soldiers in living conditions and a climate very different from their own. The advertisement referred to by the hon. Member was framed in accordance with this rule.

Mr. Benn

But can the right hon. Gentleman explain why the headquarters in Malta, in response to a query about this, said that the suitability to the Army of a British subject of non-European race cannot be properly assessed while he is residing overseas? Will he also recognise that, whatever the administrative explanation for this may be, an advertisement of this kind, which does attempt to define race with regard to recruitment to the Army, will give great offence to a large number of people?

Mr. Hare

I can assure the hon. Member that there is no intention at all of giving any offence. I shall certainly look at the point, but I do not think that I can accept the implications of what the hon. Member says. As I explained in my Answer to his original Question, the situation is really very clear.

Mr. Strachey

Is not the Minister being much too complacent about this? Is not the phrase "European race" one which cannot possibly be defined; and is it not most unfortunate, in the case of much the greatest multi-racial society in the world, to use such a phrase? Can it not simply be eliminated from all Army regulations? Surely it is doing nothing but harm.

Mr. Hare

I will certainly look at the matter. As I say, there is absolutely no intention of giving the impression about which the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) is worried. The reasons for the rule are perfectly clear, but if there is anything that I can do about the wording, I will certainly look at it.

Mr. J. Griffiths

What did the right hon. Gentleman think, in his capacity as a Minister in the Colonal Office, of advertisements of this kind?

Mr. Hare

The right hon. Gentleman knows exactly my feelings on the subject—feelings which I share with him.