HC Deb 09 December 1986 vol 107 cc166-7
5. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on progress with the introduction of ethnic monitoring in the Army.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Roger Freeman)

Arrangements are well in hand for the Army, in common with the other services, to introduce ethnic monitoring as outlined in the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) on 5 November, at column 434.

Mr. Dubs

I welcome the decision to introduce monitoring next April, but how does the Minister answer the criticism that it will not cover possible discrimination against black soldiers as regards promotion? Secondly, will it cover instances when potential soldiers apply, for example, to the Brigade of Guards, and are diverted by the Army recruiting office to another regiment? Under which regiment will they then be recorded?

Mr. Freeman

Promotion of those in the armed services is, as the hon. Gentleman knows, on the basis of merit, aptitude and motivation. There are two reasons why monitoring is not to be introduced for those in service. First, it is considered unnecessary, because no examples are known to the Ministry of Defence of racial discrimination. If there are, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will draw them to our attention. Secondly, we consider it inappropriate, because the introduction of monitoring in the armed services for those in service would be divisive.

Mr. Conway

Does my hon. Friend accept that the basis for promotion in the armed forces must continue to be ability, success rate on military courses, and so on, and that in no way should the armed forces be seen to discriminate in favour of black people against those who are most able and worthy of promotion?

Mr. Freeman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I agree very much with him. Indeed, I believe that black members of the armed forces would very much resent any implication that their promotion was other than by merit alone.

Mr. Ron Brown

Some members of the ethnic minorities serving in the SAS helped to organise the shipment of submarine lifting gear from Scotland to Libya. Will the Minister explain their role? Was that to make amends for the bombing of Libyan cities, or will the hon. Gentleman say simply that it is a state secret?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is a bit wide of ethnic monitoring.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my hon. Friend monitor carefully the excellent performance of the Gurkha Rifles and assure the House that there will be no reduction in the number of Gurkha battalions, which have provided such an excellent service to the Crown over the years?

Mr. Freeman

I agree very much with my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the Gurkha forces currently serving in Hong Kong and elsewhere. I assure him that the Gurkhas have a long-term and secure future in the British Army.

Mr. McNamara

Can the Under-Secretary inform the House how many commissioned officers in the forces are of African, Caribbean or Asian origin? Why are people of that origin in the British Army assumed to lack merit, aptitude and motivation, because there are so few of them in the commissiond ranks? Does the hon. Gentleman accept that many people in the minority communities will not feel that they are fully accepted as British citizens until they are given a commensurate place in the protection of these islands, on merit, aptitude and motivation, and not on the ground of discrimination, from which many feel they suffer?

Mr. Freeman

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Commission for Racial Equality has recommended that the only correct way to monitor those of different ethnic backgrounds in the armed services is on the basis of self-classification, and not by myself or anyone else in the Ministry of Defence going out and counting members of individual units. I have said that we have no intention of introducing ethnic monitoring for those in service.